Utrecht & Holland, Netherlands (2018)

Going on bike trips around Bonn is not so much fun. The roads near the Rhine river are too small for pedestrians and cyclists going both ways. In the city the bike infrastructure feels like a timid afterthought. During a vacation to Zeeland in the Netherlands a couple of years ago we had amazing bike trips. At some point I wanted to do a longer bike trip in the Netherlands, and I just did the first one of them in the region of Utrecht and Holland. I took my bike in the train to Utrecht, rode it from city to city and took it back home in the train from Rotterdam.

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You can jump to any part of the trip with the table of contents. This map shows my general route:

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The numbers indicate the days of the trip.

Booking the train

Getting an international train ticket with Deutsche Bahn is not hard in general, one can just book online on their website. I read about complications when traveling with a bike. Though I could add a bike to the search and found connections, I could not book the bike ticket. The error page informed me that it would not be possible if part of the journey would be outside of Germany or there was no more space for bike left. I had to either book it via telephone or at the travel agency at the station.

Taking my headset out of the drawer in the expectation of a long call, I dialed their number and navigated through their automated system until I talked to a person. From the website I already knew the exact connection that I wanted to get, it was only a matter of transmitting all my billing details through the phone to the agent. After around fifteen minutes into the call it just dropped. I don’t know whether it was their fault or my cell phone signal, but I then tried again.

One cannot skip their voice menu by entering the digits at the beginning, it only saved half a minute. The next agent researched my journey and started typing my details into their system. I got to choose a PIN such that for future bookings I just had to give the name and my number. Once she had all the details, she put me into the waiting loop while she prepared the booking. After a few minutes a different agent greeted me and there was a bit of confusion on what had happened. I was happy that I have agreed to record the call for training purposes, maybe they will find the issue in their system.

The third agent was able to pick up my details using the PIN but could not see anything booked. We went through the exact details of the trip again and then I got everything booked. The interesting thing is that in Germany you have to reserve a bike space on an IC train. In the Netherlands you cannot reserve, just bring your bike and see whether it fits. The later is done in Germany for regional trains. Are the Dutch just less organized or do they just have more bike space in their trains?

My tickets could not be sent to me via email, I had to print them out at a ticket machine. For a service surcharge I could have had them mailed to me. The telephone agent told me that I just had to enter my credit card into the machine and could print all tickets. This sounded like a decent option, so I took it.

Days later at the station it turned out that my card could not be read by the machine. In the travel agency at the main station they managed to give me my tickets. I had a plethora of papers then:

  1. Ticket from Bonn to Utrecht
  2. Seat reservation from Bonn to Düsseldorf
  3. International bike ticket from Bonn to Utrecht
  4. QR code to leave a Dutch train station
  5. Another QR code
  6. Ticket from Rotterdam to Bonn
  7. Seat reservation from Düsseldorf to Bonn
  8. International bike ticket from Rotterdam to Bonn
  9. Another QR code
  10. And one more QR code
  11. Receipt for the credit card payment
  12. Handwritten note with the booking number

At that point I could not bend my wallet easily any more.

Train ride to Utrecht

I have had very mixed experiences with Deutsche Bahn. Some trips were really smooth, others were pretty rough. This one started with the announcement of delays even before I left my home. I can recommend their mobile application for tracking your journey. It turned out to be five minutes delay at departure in Bonn and ten minutes at arrival in Düsseldorf.

At the train station I needed to take the elevator for the first time as far as I can remember. Taking the one down was fine with the bike, it was a perfect fit. Taking the second elevator up was a problem: it was too small for the bike. So I ended up holding the bike vertically in the elevator.

The order of the train cars was reversed, yet car number 5 was not between cars 6 and 4. Of course I had my seat an bike reservation in exactly that one. So all I could do is to stand near the doors in the hallway. When we were close to Düsseldorf, one employee asked if I was getting off the train soon and did not even ask for my ticket. When I asked where car number 5 was, he told me that it should be the next one. He told me to not make him nervous and he would check later. He wasn’t informed that it is missing, so it likely is between cars 6 and 7. From other travelers that I met in Venlo I learned that car 5 was at the very end of the train. This would have not been possible to find out when I boarded the train. Calling the Deutsche Bahn hotline later gave me a 5 EUR coupon for my next journey. This way I did not have to pay for a then useless reservation at least; though I have to use it within a year it it will be void.

The elevators in Düsseldorf were also too small, but now I have a technique: push the bike in in reverse, hold the rear wheel with your foot and raise the front wheel and rest it next to the elevator wall. This way it does not fall over and you do not block the door. I later discovered that my rear mudguard has broken. So the first attempts to put the bike into the elevator with the baggage loaded on it damaged it such that I need to replace it. This is unfortunate and just makes the elevator situation even worse.

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The 10 minute delay in the arrival at Düsseldorf was compensated by a delay in the departure with the connecting train from Düsseldorf to Venlo. It was announced being 10 minutes, then 15, then 20, then again 15.

In order to get some more of the unexpected into the trip, there was a change in platforms. The train changed from platform 4 to 6, these are not adjacent. I thought about taking the elevator down but several families with perambulators were faster. Since the elevatorss are agonizing slow I just decided to take the stairs. With all the baggage on the bike this was not much fun. To make things worse the elevator back up to platform 6 was out of order, so I carried the bike back up.

The train itself was a short train, and the bike area was of course quickly filled with people without bikes. I friendly asked the people to vacate and make room for the bikes. Reluctantly they moved, which was better than usual. Apparently there was a soccer game on this day such that the train was rather crowded.

When we arrived at Venlo, the last station of the train, the whole platform was already full of people. Other passengers and I were joking about the people who will likely not wait until everyone got off the train. I was the last one to get out of the train and there was a very narrow channel of impatient people to get through. My handlebars were wider than this gap, so I had to stop every step and ask people to step away. Once the rear of my bike had cleared the doors, people began moving into the car. I almost got pushed over by the crowd. I screamed “Hey!” and the pressure eased a bit so I could find my balance again. From there on I went with a wider stance and started to just pushing people away to make room for myself.

At Venlo I needed to take the elevator to get to another platform. And they were large enough to easily fit the bike. I guess the engineers have just tested it with a bike whereas in Germany bikes are an afterthought in the railway system. Take for instance the ICE trains where only the fourth generation has some bike storage.

While going to the next platform I picked up a US-American business traveler who was asking for the train to Utrecht. He just joined me and we chatted for a while. Interestingly he told me that I had a really clear English. I bet if you ask somebody from the West Coast or Britain they would call out a county accent.

The train ride to Utrecht was in a train called IC but it was very similar to German RE trains. There was enough space for the bikes. Compared to German IC and RE this train was rather old and did not look very clean. However it was the only train on time that day. And if you wanted to know, their toilet dumps onto the tracks.

Utrecht

The elevators at the main station of Utrecht are also very large, it is actually pleasant to move around with a bike there. There are gates at the station, so I needed to use one of my exit codes to get out. There was one wide gate for wheelchairs and bikes, no problem at all.

Once I got to the streets I saw wide paved bike paths. Being used to Bonn means that I was really bewildered to see that a city gives this much space to bikes. It certainly is a good thing but seems so unthinkable in Germany. I wonder whether German cities will eventually transform into this but I will not hold my breath for it.

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An unusual thing is that scooters are allowed on most bike paths. This did not feel too bad in Utrecht because the bike paths are wide enough.

There are bikes everywhere. So many that you have trouble finding a parking spot which looks secure enough. For the first night I chose a signpost which informed about camera surveillance. I hope that this would be a sufficient deterrent. There are multiple parking garages for bikes, one is subsidized by the government and the first 24 hours are free, then every 24 hours cost 0.50 EUR. This is per parking, so if you just leave it during the nights is completely free. Though one has to be fair and say that it was full when I looked into parking my bike there. For comparison: The bike station in Bonn costs 0.90 EUR per day.

As I was told on the train by a Dutch person I was the only person with a bike helmet in the city. Actually I was also one of few people without their phones on the bike. People there seem to be rather confident in either themselves, everyone else or the infrastructure. You see people with phones in Bonn, but not at this scale. If you would combine the cyclists from Utrecht and the car drivers from Bonn into one city, I would fear that people get killed. I happen to yield to every car and the drivers seems bewildered and wait for me. I wonder how many days one needs to get used to the ease of cycling there.

On the first day I drove around around 16 km and had a look at the southwest of the city. There is a really nice bike bridge that has a ramp going over the school.

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When I went for dinner I was not sure whether the 12 EUR cash that I had on me would be sufficient. Before ordering I wanted to ask for credit card payment. On the door it said:

PIN & credit card only

In Dutch one calls debit cards just “PIN” because you enter that when you pay. It is not that the Netherlands are so advanced, it really feels that Germany is behind in these things. The one boulder place had debit card payments only for 10 EUR or more. Therefore I always carry cash in Germany, but here it seems so unnecessary. Also they do not use 1 and 2 cent coins any more because they are essentially worthless and with rounding you average out at the same anyway. And if you want to pay exact, you can do so with card.

For Utrecht I have booked two nights in the Stayokay Utrecht Centraal hostel. It is really close to the train station and makes a very modern appearance. Each bed in the dormatory had a locker or a storage chest, but one would have bring a lock. Also there is no soap or towels like you have at the A&O Hostel.

One great thing about the bike lanes in the Netherlands is that they are not broken up at intersections. Instead the people crossing it have to drive up and down a ramp. Take this example where there is a level bike lane and ramps on either side:

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The water through the city is very nice as well, this is in front of a restaurant where I had dinner:

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A long time ago the cycling infrastructure in Germany was separated from cars. In intersections this has led to accidents where car drivers that did a right turn did not see the cyclist going straight. The conclusion was that cycling on the road was safer. With the cars getting wider and their drivers not giving enough space when passing, I long for a separated infrastructure. Intersections can be made safer by using the Dutch right-angle intersection approach:

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The crossing for the bikes is moved away from the intersection a bit. This means that cars and bikes meet at a right angle and seeing them becomes easier. This combines the advantages of separated lanes with more safety. The downside is that you cannot go as fast, but the curve radius is generally large enough for moderate speeds.

A second great thing is that on most streets there are no parking cars. And when there are, they are between the driving cars and the cycles.

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Here one has sufficient separation against carelessly opened doors and parking cars do not cross the bike lane.

There are some roads in Utrecht where one has parking cars and just a narrow strip with a dashed line to it. This is the standard in Bonn. The difference is that I have only seen those in zones with 30 km/h. Once you leave the city there are separated bike lanes again:

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Houten

On the second day of my trip I rode to Houten, a district near Utrecht. In a news article about bike friendly cities I learned about this district. It was not designed primarily for the bike but rather for people. A place worthy of living in and not just driving through. It just happened that the bike became the primary mode of transportation there.

There are real bike roads there. Germany has these “Fahrradstraßen” but they usually come with a “cars allowed” sign. In reality these roads are just like 30 km/h zones but count towards the bike statistics. Here in the Netherlands the slogan of the “fietstraat” is “auto te gast”: cars are just guests there. The same also applies to their German counterparts in theory, but that usually does not pan out. Also politicians and city planners do not seem to have the courage to declare major roads as bike roads.

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German traffic regulations say that only cars that have their start or destination within the bike road may use it. In Bonn there are bike streets like the Ennemoserstraße or the Nassestraße which are frequently used by people getting through. In the Netherlands this is sometimes enforced by blocking the cars halfway:

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Another important aspect is the right of way. The Dutch bike roads are often priority routes and have the right of way at every intersection. This means that you can just ride your bike with constant speed and cars have to stop for you. On many occasions I habitually slowed down only to find a patient car driver waiting for me.

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Take the following example where a two-way cycle path splits to either side of the road. The cyclists have the right of way!

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This feels complete unthinkable in Germany. For the Netherlands this is also not the norm. I found similar setups where the cyclists have to yield to the cars. This shows how cool Houten is.

There are also roads for cars in Houten. In these cases there are tunnels for cyclists. And on this intersection there are four tunnels such that cyclists are bothered as little as possible.

In Germany somebody would have slashed the budget and only build three tunnels and lets cyclist ride a full circle instead.

Also Houten has been awarded “fietstad 2018” (bike city 2018) by the Dutch bike association. In contrast Bonn wants to be the bike capital of Northrhine-Westphalia by the year 2020. They seem to have noticed that this takes work and cuts for cars, so they do not push for that noticeably any more. I wonder how far Bonn is from being awarded the same thing from German ADFC, let alone the Dutch bike association.

Bike ride to Amsterdam

On the third day of the trip I cycled to Amsterdam. During the 45 km I had two showers of rain. Both came with ample warning of dark clouds and light rain before. Checking weather radar is highly recommended for bike trips! I put on my rain gear in advance, so when the downpour arrived, I did not get wet.

Between the cities there are fewer lanes, but usually a septated two-way bike line. This makes riding more pleasant than on the street itself. On some small roads you have just a dashed line. Very small roads however are often turned into bike roads. I passed one little village where the main Street to the houses was such a street. In Germany this feels unthinkable.

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Amsterdam

In Amsterdam I stayed two nights in the Generator Amsterdam hostel. It is located in an old building which also could be a more expensive hotel from the general appearance. It used to be a medical school. On the back there is a nice park, this is an appealing location for a vacation.

On the first evening there I took one of the promoted bike routes to the very center and the central station. It way Monday 17:00, and traffic was murder. I was nearly touched three times, once by a car, once by a scooter and once by some other cyclist. In general people seem to think little of the traffic rules which made it very difficult for me to figure out where other people were going. Perhaps I am too pedantic but it reminded me of documentaries about Asian cities where traffic seems to be complete madness that one has to learn to navigate.

Every couple of corners you could smell people smoking marijuana. It would also be legal to do so in Utrecht, but I did not notice it there often. Perhaps there are just so many tourists in Amsterdam. Hearing a lot of German chatter on the streets adds to that theory.

At an Italian pizza joint I had the best pizza since I was in Bologna, Italy. They have a stone oven that is heated with wood fire. Their pizza is extremely thin and had just a few pieces on mozzarella on it.

Construction sites in Germany usually have no offerings for cyclists. Bike lanes just end and one has to find another way. There are several construction sites that I passed and all of them show alternative routes (by-passes) around:

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The amounts of bike parking everywhere are amazing. Around the main station I saw lots of parking lots, and these are just the ones that are not inside buildings or under ground.

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My rear tire was damaged and I figured that it would be safer to replace it as soon as possible. I was at four shops and they did not have the exact model that I currently have. One would think that buying the same tire would be easy in a bike city like Amsterdam. There are, however, dozens of small bike shacks that do not carry the more advanced tires but only the ones used by the people in the city. One very nice shop owner recommended a bike sports shop to me, which I could only visit on the next day as I was late on that day. He called them up and they did not have the exact model but others in a similar product segment of that brand. On the next day I got there and found a tire which was a close replacement to the model that came with the bike. I did some research during the previous evening but they did not have the exact model in stock that I found online.

This fourth day of my trip was mostly spend cruising around towards the east and north-east. One relatively quickly gets into little villages and fields.

A lot of Dutch villages seem to have a WhatsApp group where they send alerts about strange things happening to prevent robberies:

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There are broad commuting routes with ample bike paths leading into the city and out:

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To go from the north east to the central station you need to cross water. There is a ferry for cyclists and scooters, and it is free of charge:

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In general I found that more interstates have been equipped with noise control measures:

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This makes the noise level nearby much more bearable. If I think of Bonn-Röttgen or Bonn-Ückesdorf where you can hear the constant noise from the Autobahn A565 in the background, this is very pleasant.

There is one intersection where the separation line between the two directions of bike traffic is a bit diagonal. This means that there is more space to wait while the traffic light shows red. Once green, cyclists will start off and form a narrow convoy and fit through the smaller space. This is quite ingenious and I have seen that showcased by the “bike professor” from Amsterdam on Twitter.

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As one can find in most cities today Amsterdam had a lot of vegetarian and vegan restaurant. I had dinner at a “vegan junk food” bar. They had burgers which might actually be healthy. Though I guess there is no way to make French fries healthy.

Similarly to the British isles one can order tap water in restaurants which is free and likely even of better quality than bottled water. I have to try this in Germany as well, though I had the impression that a significant share of the revenue comes from the drinks and therefore serving tap water is not offered at all.

Bike ride to Noordwijk

After two days in Amsterdam I was actually looking forward to get out of the large city. I quite like Utrecht but Amsterdam is just too big for my taste. Although I did not feel as threatened by cars compared to Bonn, I had a very close encounter with other cyclists and especially scooters several times a day. The cycling infrastructure here is much better than in Bonn, but the perceived reckless drivers stresses me out.

I took the national cycling route LF20 from Amsterdam to Haarlem. There were not as many people as in the city of Amsterdam. The bike paths are usually wide enough that two people fit next to each other even with oncoming traffic. As the route goes near Schiphool airport there were many planes in the air and it was not exactly quiet.

Then from Haarlem to Noordwijk I took the route LF1. This went through dunes most of the time and was very relaxing after two days in the busy city.

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After I had passed the city of Zandvoort I got to see the North Sea. The bike route then went through some large park behind the dams such that one could not see the sea any more.

Noordwijk aan Zee

On the fifth day I did around 55 km ob my bike and arrived in Noordwijk. It is a smaller town and it seems to be focused on tourism. There are many hotels in the front row behind the dunes. From the license plates on the cars this town seems so be frequented mostly by Dutch nationals but also a fair share of German and a few Belgian tourists. The German license plates are mostly from the Ruhrgebiet which is no surprise due to the proximity.

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The beach seems clean and not as full of tourist attractions as I had on my last trip to Mallorca. As it likely is much too cold to go swimming anyway, I did not even try.

Unfortunately the weather got pretty rainy towards the evening of the fifth day, therefore I went just for a little walk along the beach.

The next morning I had breakfast at the hostel (Flying Pig Beach Hostel) as it was included in the booking. It is a rather small hostel, so there was just one table and we got taking. There are people from at least Italy, Australia, USA, England. They talked about the amount of alcohol they had consumed in the past days. Then later we talked about speeds on highways and interstates.

As there were a few other computer and science enthusiasts at the table, the conversation derailed towards physics. A few minutes in a really stoned guy came in. The hostel has a smoking room where one can smoke anything I was told on check-in. The other guests then told me that he had been like this for several days now. He then chimed into the conversation with statements like “time is instantaneous” or “Einstein was wrong because he wasn’t good enough at math”. Einstein actually said that he did not understand his theory of general relativity any more after the mathematicians worked on it. But with the recent discovery of gravitational waves I highly doubt that Einstein “was wrong”. And that bloke could also not further explain what instantaneous time is about. But he rambled on about us being connected with quantum entanglement. A couple minutes later he threw in “blockchain” and I started to get a hunch of the workings of his mind. I added “quantum field theory” and “string vibrations” to the mix and he believed that he could feel the string vibrations in his brain.

I thought that it could not become less serious, but then a second person joined the conversation talking about mathematics, the very concept of zero and how it leads to anti-gravity. With the feeling that I could not contribute anything to this conversation on that level, I finished breakfast and left for Leiden.

On the bike trip to there I found some lost traveler who did not understand the by-pass around a construction site. As he also headed for Leiden, we stayed together until we reached the city. He is from Florence, Italy and looking for a place to stay in Leiden to study Chinese at the University.

The amount of German chatter on the streets of Noordwijk reminds me of Zeeland where there are a lot of German tourists. In the grocery store I heard one woman addressing the cashier in German right away. Sure, they likely speak German there but isn’t that still rude?

The seventh day was blessed with good weather. After the trip to Leiden spend the evening on the beach and got a beautiful sunset:

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Leiden

On the sixth day of the trip I left Noordwijk and drove to Leiden. Going there and later back was around 55 km. It is a very beautiful town indeed! Near the center there are a couple windmills, this is one of them:

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With windmills and raising bridges, it cannot really scream “Holland” any louder.

I really like the canal ring around the inner part of the city. One can cycle along the road on the outer side. There are a lot of parks at the canal. One of these belongs to the university:

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The cycling infrastructure is neither extremely good or bad. There are separated cycle lanes as I am now used to. In the inner part of the city the houses are too close to each other, therefore there is just one shared road along the canals. The street along the canal ring just has dashed lines for the cyclists on either side.

There are many streets in Leiden and other cities that are made with cobblestones or something similar. Too often they are loose and the bike feels very weird going over them. Some roads have new stones such that the gaps between them are not that large. And sometimes one finds concrete stones that are placed in a parallel and not staggered way. This means that you can slip into a continuous groove which might trip your balance a bit. They are not as bad as the dangerous tram tracks but cycle paths should be done with asphalt everywhere. I realize that the gaps between the stones lets air and water through, but they are not so great to ride on.

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My little Dutch skills became better over the days, ordering food and asking for certain ingredients usually worked. I did not understand much of their responses but on this sixth day of the trip I managed to give a stranger directions in Dutch, so I will take that as a partial success. Often people switch to English, others are patient enough to let me gather a full sentence and seem to like seeing me try to speak their language.

The bike ride back to Noordwijk was a pain as there was a constant breeze coming from the sea. The mean wind speed was 15 km/h with peaks at 30 km/h. Crouching made it a little better, but fighting against the wind got old pretty quickly.

Although the scooters did not bother me so much in the beginning, I then started to have objections about them on the bike paths. The number of close passes were really high on that day. Also their drivers try to advance in the queues in front of traffic lights, which is not bad in itself. Everyone that is behind them then has to breathe their emissions, made worse by mindless playing with the throttle. Especially when you are breathing more heavily than usual from fighting against the wind, their emissions become very annoying.

Bike ride to Den Haag

After an uneventful breakfast on the seventh day I left for Den Haag. A little south of Noordwijk there is the town of Katwijk. Though there were a lot of cars with German license plates on them, the first Street at the beach was not occupied by hotels. Instead normal looking houses were the majority. I have seen a lot of people who could be retired, and this place certainly seems like a good way to spend time.

The cycle route LF1 goes through the dunes as close to the sea as possible. In a follow up trip I might start in Den Haag and follow it further south to Zeeland, perhaps even to Brugge, Belgium.

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Along the way I also found some very beautiful lakes:

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Den Haag

After around 22 km I arrived in Scheveningen, a district of Den Haag. The LF1 led me through a suburb consisting only of villas, that was quite impressive.

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The cycling infrastructure there is actually quite bad. The few separate cycle lanes are narrow and often damaged by tree roots. Others have this annoying cobblestone texture. There are many of these barriers to slow down people. There is a particular bad kind without reflective coating and pillars that will hurt a lot if one happened to fall into one:

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This one is right on the LF1 route. There is loose foliage and little pieces of wood, I almost feel from my bike while passing this damn thing. So even for my German standard this is sub par.

The hostel that I booked for the night is located somewhat close to the beach, the Jorplace Beach Hostel. I arrived too early to check in right away as the bike trip was not as long as the ones to Amsterdam or Noordwijk have been. Luckily all hostels have a luggage room where you can just leave your luggage unattended until you check in.

I have been sitting at the beach during the day. With the sun out it was still fresh in the wind but very enjoyable. Also it had been a good opportunity to proofread my draft of this article.

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When I checked into the hostel, there was a very large group of German people that seemed just a bit younger than 20. The host informed me that there was going to be a party and that it would not last longer than 02:30. I was offered earplugs but I already brought some from home. I have used them most nights and it seems to help a bit. While making my bed in an otherwise empty room I heard a lot of German chatter on the hallway, this might become the loudest night of the while trip.

Interestingly I needed to pay a tourist tax which was not already payed with the online booking. In Utrecht I needed to pay for the linen separately. And in Noordwijk and Den Haag I needed to pay a deposit for the room key. I do not care so much about the details as the total price is still below any hotel.

All hostels use credit card sized contactless room cards. There are matching locks at the front door, the corridors on each level of the building and on the room itself. This is very convenient for me and also for them. In one hostel I also read that they record every single opening of the doors, do one has an audit trail built right in.

While eating dinner at the beach and watching the rising tide, I noticed that the ships near the horizon have not moved. And there are many of them, though I could not find anything except ocean on the map there.

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Taking a look at marine traffic I figured out that the ships have anchored. Also there are several of these anchored groups near the Dutch coast. The river leading to Rotterdam is full of ships, so presumably they just wait for their turn to make port. It is amazing how much information is readily available.

When I got back into my room after sunset there was nobody else there and no other bed had been made, I assumed that I had the room for myself. There was a slogan on one of the posters in the wall:

you never sleep alone

Hoping that it would not be true I went to bed. The sounds of the party downstairs were transmitted into my room via the building walls, the earplugs did not help against the bass. At around 22:30 another person came in and made their bed. In this hostel the beds are made from metal pipes and clamps, it looks like an improvised industrial shelf. The problem with these is that they make metal sounds whenever you shift your weight. The other person inadvertently woke me up and I could not get back to sleep until he had settled. At 07:30, after sunrise, a third person entered the room, waking up the both of us. He entered the room another two times, presumably he forgot to take the linen from the container. When I got up a little later as I could not find sleep again, he was covered with the linen and had the raw blanket on the side. Either he felt very warm or he just was not able to put on the sheets. Even though the other person and I got going he firmly snored. That is probably the way to do hostels: come in last, be very tired and just sleep like a rock.

The handling of linen is different in every hostel. In Utrecht and Amsterdam I was given the sheets and had to put them on the sheets myself but could leave them there on checkout. In Noordwijk I did not have to do anything and in Den Haag I had to put them on and off.

In the hallways I met a couple of people from the party yesterday. I asked whether it was a vacation or just some party and they told me that this was a work event. So the person with the folder of a human resources consulting firm was their organizer. On the floors I heard somebody ask his peers why everyone else was so awake. At checkout another person told me that initially they just got funded for the trip and accommodation at the hostel. If they managed to get a certain amount of revenue there would also be a party and booze. I really wonder how partying late and getting drunk is a team building exercise for a human resources consulting firm. Maybe their management has just played them and know exactly how to motivate their young employees. And I was assured that they do this type of thing just once or twice a year. It is not as bad as a German insurance company paying for a sex party in eastern Europe for their management, but still.

Bike ride to Rotterdam

During the night some birds have crapped on my bike. I had just cleaned it before the trip, now the bike might start to expect a way a week.

On the seventh day I only saw the district of Scheveningen from Den Haag. The main part of town is on the route to Rotterdam. Also on the way lies Delft which I know for their university. So on the eighth day I got to see a bit more of Den Haag. Perhaps I coasted through the wrong parts of the city but it did not really stand out like Leiden did. It is just another Dutch city. Outside of Scheveningen the bike infrastructure is on the standard level of the Netherlands: some good separated commuting routes, some painted strips on other roads. There was a one-way street that was opened for cyclists going the other direction as usual. There were parked cars on both sides of the street. I had to halt every few meters to let oncoming cars pass. At the next intersection I saw that this was supposed to be a bike street with cars as guests. It certainly did not feel like it.

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Somewhere in a park I did a brief pause. Some random person started to speak to me in Dutch. I replied in Dutch that I do not speak much of it, and we continued mostly in English. The person sat down next to me on the bench and pulled out a joint. He then complimented my bike. Perhaps I am just paranoid from reading about information security and doing a self defense class, but somebody saying “this is a nice bike you have” makes me really uneasy. I imagined him getting up and just taking be bike. We had a brief conversation but before anything else happened I just left the strange man and continued my trip.

A neat traffic management thing that I read about but first saw in Den Haag is green for all cyclists at a traffic light. There is a dedicated phase in the traffic lights and all cyclists can go in any direction. This means that you do not have to wait two phases to make a left turn but can just do both at the same time. Cyclists can generally watch out for other cyclists, so that seems to work well.

Another thing that I find irritating is the frequency with that people still drive over the intersection although I already have a green light. Either the separation between the different phases is too short or many people go over red lights. This means that one always has to look before entering an intersection. This is of course true everywhere, but in Germany I do not have the impression that it is really as needed as in the Netherlands.

Although I initially did not see many cyclists with helmets, I have seen many of them now. The pattern is that the people with road bikes almost always wear a helmet and everyone else does not. As I also did cycling for leisure there, wearing a helmet actually was not all that strange after all.

Twice I have been passed by a car with 20 cm distance on that day. I could have slapped on their roof and with proper safety distance that should be impossible. The second time was a driving school car. So one has to take the lane to prevent the motorists from close passing also in the Netherlands.

Somewhere between Den Haag and Delft there is this fancy looking bridge:

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I have the impression that the Dutch are more daring with architecture compared to Germany.

On my way I passed the city of Delft. It seems more bike friendly. From the general appeal it is similar to Leiden with the narrow streets and canals but not quite as beautiful.

The Dutch are well known for their manipulation of the water level with dams and windmills as pumps. On the route LF11 I found a canal which has a water level above the cycle path next to it.

Rotterdam

I pictured Rotterdam as a sleazy port city, but it appears very modern and clean. There are ample bike paths on the main routes and the routes LF11 and LF2 mostly are very nice to ride on. There is really cool and stark architecture to be found in a lot of places. The waterfronts are being developed, just like Dublin. I guess Hamburg is similar, but likely not with this nice bike infrastructure.

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The Stayokay Rotterdam is located in the cube houses. They are eye catching:

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In between these houses there is a square that has a very familiar atmosphere. Even though it is located over a busy road, it feels rather quiet and calm up there.

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At the reception there was a US-American traveler who wanted to get a room. Since they had everything already booked out, they could not give him a room. He had handwritten notes of other hostels and asked the receptionist to call them for him. They declined and told him to use his own phone. I just used my comparison app, looked for a room in Rotterdam and sorted by price. No hostels showed up in the listing, so they must have been all booked out. I gave him the number of the cheapest hotel and he was very happy.

My room in the hostel is at the middle level of one of the cubes. The room is shaped very strangely and I wonder what the condos look like from the inside. I think one could have gotten much of the village feel without rotating the cubes onto their tips. The room that I stayed in was rather long and narrow and only had a window at the very end. The air did not move and it was warm and stuffy. With seven people in the room this only got worse.

On one of the major roads I found a thick lane of bike parking between the car parking and the bike lane. This way carelessly opened car doors do not become a problem for the cyclists. Also cars never pass the bike lane. And as there is a step between the bike and pedestrian lanes the latter do not wander onto the bike line. The step means that could cannot drive into the pedestrian area either. This should not be necessary and also is forbidden to do. So this design seems to be very good:

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When I got back to the hostel the room was still warm. I checked the window and it can only be opened by about 10 cm, presumably for safety reasons. Then I discovered that there is a fan and air conditioning unit that one can control from the room. So I set it to 22 C. The room temperature has been measured to be 27 C. Just after a few minutes the room became bearable and my headache started to go away.

The shower in that hostel room was of the dead-man-switch type. You had to press the knob every half minute to keep the water going. I can see the purpose of these installations but I do not like them. To make things worse the relative water pressure between hot and cold water changed every few minutes and the temperature had to be adjusted.

My favorite hostel still remains the one in Utrecht: comfortable beds, two showers and one toilet for eight people. And it all looked very recently modernized.

Rotterdam also has a lot of bike parking facilities:

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To be fair, not all bike infrastructure is good. Sometimes you find a bike path ending in a curbstone like this one:

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Train ride to Bonn

The train ride back to Bonn had the potential to become worse than the first trip to Utrecht because I now had four instead of just three trains. My iternary was the following:

  1. Rotterdam to Eindhoven, Dutch IC
  2. Eindhoven to Venlo, Dutch IC
  3. Venlo to Düsseldorf, European train
  4. Düsseldorf to Bonn, German IC

For each transfer I had at least 20 minutes so that should be plenty. The delays and having to move the bike around the station on the first trip have dampened my hopes for this to go through cleanly.

The main station of Rotterdam is a very fancy looking building:

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And just like in virtually every city except Bonn, there is a large square in front of it. Compared to nearby German cities like Köln, Aachen and Dortmund, Bonn ist the only city without such a square. There are plenty of other streets where people can show off their loud cars, so there is no problem with that in Rotterdam.

The main hall is actually pleasant to wait in. In Bonn you just have the crowded platforms and that is about it. Benches are rare and usually all taken.

In Rotterdam they have a Sani-Fair toilet facility and I was able to pay the 0.70 EUR with my contactless credit card. If it is that easy and clean, I do not mind paying for it.

Before I went to platform 6 and waited there, I opened the Deutsche Bahn app to add my connection to it for tracking delays. I was not able to find the connection. When I put in more restraints and just looked for one part of the trip I found that my train from Rotterdam to Eindhoven changes into a bus on Breda. This meant two more transfers. I was a little bewildered and went to the information booth. The extremely friendly and accommodating clerk told me that it is rather usual to have constructions on the weekends in Holland. I asked whether Deutsche Bahn could have known of that two weeks ago when I booked and she was a little bewildered as well. It seemed odd that this would be done with less than two weeks notice. But she suggested going through Utrecht with a train that left five minutes after that conversation. My ticket would be valid because of construction work. I was not sure whether that holds for the German IC as well.

So I ran to platform 13 and caught the train with the bike car right in front of the elevator. I wondered whether that was a coincidence. I asked the conductor whether it goes to Utrecht and boarded the train. My bike was then securely fastened, I had a seat, all good. Although my whole iternary was now spoiled, it did not feel too bad as my ticket seemed to be valid in all Dutch trains and there is enough space for bikes without the need for a reservation. At the bike spot in the train it even said “priority” next to a bike symbol. So you actually have a right to put your bike there and not just have to hope that people without bikes move to other parts of the train.

At the train station of Utrecht I needed to go to platform 17 to take the next train to Arnhem. First I need to take the elevator up. As there was already a bike and a perambulator in it, I did not bother but the people signaled me to also come in. To my surprise the elevator was large enough for two bikes and one perambulator. That that Deutsche Bahn, I want that in Germany as well.

When I arrived at platform 17 there was already an IC to Venlo on the tracks. The Deutsche Bahn app did not suggest that but I thought that I could just take the European train in Venlo, like I did in the beginning of the trip. As I checked in the app I realized that no trains to Germany ran in that Sunday. Quickly I scrambled to produce the iternary of the train that I was just in to find out where I could transfer to Arnhem. I briefly lost cell phone signal but now it is a steady 3G and 4G signal. A possibility was about transfer in ’s-Hertogenbosch. I would only have two minutes for it, and that would likely not work. But I had booked an European train from Venlo Tipp Düsseldorf. So why did it not show up in the app any more? Out of curiosity I removed the requirement for a bike transfer from the search and found the train again. There is another construction site between Viersen and Mönchengladbach which is then serviced with busses. I have just recently be told by a friend that they would just not transport his bike. So I did not want to risk that and taking the detour makes sense.

At ’s-Hertogenbosch (I doubt that I would have understood that in a train broadcast if Max had not told me a week ago) station I needed to transfer from platform 6 to 1 in the time between arrival at 14:52 and departure at 14:54. Luckily the train already arrived at 14:49 already. Also thanks to the gentleman who let me off the train first and pushing on the button to open the door! The elevator was right there, I got up to the skywalk. Then the elevator down was large enough for the family with stroller and my bike. I got into the train just 30 seconds before it departed. That was close! But thanks to the large elevators it is not that painful to do the transfers, actually. And at that point it seemed that I will get to the German IC tust I had booked such that my reservation would not be worthless again. If the nice man had not pushed the door button in the train I would have wasted another 10 seconds waiting for the door, the elevator down would have been gone and the train missed. Damn was that close in retrospect! I would have waited another hour for the next train to Arnhem.

The transfer in Arnhem went smooth, large elevators are the norm and the ones in Utrecht are exceptionally large. There were two trains in the same track but those were clearly labeled with platforms 6a and 6b. There was a conductor already present in the bike compartment and he asked to which station I would ride. He asked another traveler to move her bike such that there would be no hassle when getting out. This was the smoothest bike compartment experience yet! As the train took off the was a broadcast on German. It felt strange to be able to understand that as I had been in a Dutch/English mindset for the past week.

I had a very nice conversation on that train, both of us noted that the Dutch people appeared more friendly than the German people. This is a thing that sometimes is very nice about taking the train: you get to have interesting conversations with people who you would not have met if you only took the car.

The expected transfer time in Düsseldorf was slightly less than an hour. Before I got off the train I checked the app to see my next options including the connection that I had originally booked. My connection, which was due in over an hour at that point, was already 20 minutes late. The Dutch trains were all at most a minute late, imagine that. I skipped the elevators as there were families with perambulators and my bike would not have fit anyway. Taking the yellow bag over the shoulder and the white panniers on the bike I carried out down. Since you can take a different train when yours is late by a certain delay I went to the information booth and asked whether I could take a different train. The friendly clerk gave me a note saying that I could take any other train with the cheap ticket that I have. He could not tell me whether there were any bike spots left in the train, though. I was to ask the conductor. Otherwise I could take the regional train which would still be in Bonn earlier.

Carrying the bike back up to platform 16 I then needed to find out where the bike car would be. There are large posters with the car position indicators on the platforms. The one that I was closest to was blocked by two people standing in front of it. I politely asked them to let to see it. They reluctantly moved and then said behind my back in German »it’s not going to him good anyway«. I also noticed that there are two posters and that the one they were standing in front of had only the forenoon trains and the second one the afternoon trains. Trying to not sound pissed off, I replied placably that I could not have known that beforehand. However it seemed that both of them were annoyed by my apparent sheer stupidity of not knowing that they in fact were not in the way after all. This moment instantly reminded me of the conversation in the previous train about the Germans generally being rather negative in encounters. Maybe they just had a bad day and I am unjust; though their actions still appeared not too surprising.

I waited only a few minutes for the IC train in the correct segment of the platform. The conductor saw me and my questioning gaze and directly told me that there was sufficient space. And indeed, the whole bike car in the German IC was empty:

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Shortly after we left Düsseldorf the arrival in Bonn was already estimated at 6 minutes late. This did not surprise me a bit as that is one of the most frequented tracks in Germany. Also one of the doors in my car was broken such that a lot of people needed to go through the bike section. I had a nice chat with a lady from Singapore who has been in Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne and then stayed a night in Bonn.

The IC was scheduled to arrive at 18:36 but eventually arrived at 18:58 since there was a traffic jam on the train tracks. There must have been at least two other trains in the track in front of mine. At least I arrived a bit earlier than initially booked, so that was a plus in the end.

So if you lost track, these were the trains that I took from Rotterdam (destination only):

  1. Utrecht
  2. ’s-Hertogenbosch
  3. Arnhem
  4. Düsseldorf
  5. Bonn

If you look at a map you see that going to ’s-Hertogenbosch was quite a detour and I should have just waited for the IC from Utrecht to Arnhem:

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Luckily I did not have to take a bus to get home but could just ride my bike. Also I am very glad that it did not rain and also for all the friendly people that have helped me during the journey.

Once I left the station and drove along the Quantiusstraße, the dashed bike lane and the sidewalk were blocked by parking cars. It is usually blocked by a few ones, but at that night there were like 15 cars line all behind each other. This really was an anti-red carpet. Welcome back to car city.

Conclusions

Sleeping in hostels has been less bothering than I initially thought. Usually only half of the room is actually booked, so even though I sometimes had many other beds in the room, I did not encounter more than a couple of roommates at a time. The other people are usually in their twenties and traveling, I have met people from various counties and had a chat with them. It is somewhat unavoidable that one gets woken up by somebody arriving late or leaving early. Taking all the discounts into account I payed 24 EUR per night on average. This is much cheaper than hotels and it means that I can afford another such trip more easily. Unsurprisingly the cheapest night was in Noordwijk, and the most expensive in Amsterdam.

Doing the trip alone meant a great deal of flexibility but the most annoying downside is that you cannot have a friend watch your stuff while you go into a store. You always have to lock your bike and take all the bags with you. Especially in Amsterdam where people have a different definition of personal space than I do this meant a lot of almost bumping into people and people standing in your way.

Also I had neither my bike or my stuff stolen. The bike that I have is really out of place in a Dutch city. You have the expensive road bikes that likely always sleep in a garage, and then lots of city (“shitty”) bikes everywhere. Therefore I am also glad that it did not vanish during the trip, perhaps only because it was secured much better than the bikes around it.

Doing it without booking everything in advance went really smooth with just my phone. I did not carry my laptop, so I installed the mobile app of my preferred comparison service. There I just booked the hostels around two days in advance and that worked just fine. Since not every city has a hostel (Leiden seems to be without), it was good to check a few days before to plan the route. I wanted to stay either in Leiden, Katwijk or Noordwijk; the latter has a cheap hostel. As all hostels in Rotterdam had been completed booked at the time I checked in during the afternoon, it was good to book at least a few days in advance. Otherwise I would have needed to take a hotel room starting at 70 EUR for that night.

Although there are many bike shops in every city, their target audience are people with city bikes. Some shops have road bikes and parts for them, but looking for more specific trekking bike parts was not as successful as I had hoped. Therefore I would do all needed repairs and upkeep before leaving and not put too much trust into the density of bike shops there. Of course getting commonplace items like a spare tube or pump is no problem. Most shops have an air hose with the French and Dunlop valve outside available for free. They did not have pressure gauges, so I do not know whether I had the desired 4.5 bar in my tubes during the trip.

Getting clothes and the towel to dry proved more difficult than expected. In the hostels there may be coat racks but nothing big enough to hang my jacket, rain pants and towel. When checking out in the morning I had to leave with a wet towel and dry it on top of my baggage. Though it will be some extra weight I would take a few wire hangers or some laundry cord and pins to the next trip. If you plan on staying just for a single night in each hostel, bring enough clothes or go to a laundry shop with dryers.

I did not bring my DSLR camera to this trip, mainly because of additional weight but also because the aperture of my 18–55 mm lens got stuck and seems broken now. I only took pictures with my phone. The image quality is fine for these types of images. And with all the software doing high dynamic range and panoramic images with easy, I took more fancy images than I would have taken otherwise. Also I took a bunch of snapshots during the trips between the cities as getting the phone out of the pocket is much easier than getting the camera out of the panniers. So although in principle I could have taken better pictures, I am very content with the ones that I have and after carrying around the bags for a week I am also glad to not have taken that additional weight.

There are many more pictures to be found in this Google Photos album. They all position metadata, so you can toggle the information and get a map.

The distance that I have traveled by bike per day is this:

Day Distance / km
Saturday 17
Sunday 49
Monday 57
Tuesday 34
Wednesday 57
Thursday 55
Friday 22
Saturday 55
Sunday 7

Planning for around 45 km a day seems to be a good reference for further trips. One could also do more distance each day, but I also found it nice to sit in parks for a while.

This trip has been quite fun and I have seen some Dutch cities that I like. Though Amsterdam is too crowded for my taste it felt good to see that there are cities that embrace cycling as a means of transportation.