Groningen, Netherlands (2019)

This trip to Groningen is the sequel to my last bike trip, Utrecht & Holland, Netherlands (2018). My brother was finishing up his studies in Groningen, so I took the opportunity to visit him there and take a look at the city.

Train ride

The booking process via the telephone was quite cumbersome last year, so this time I just searched the connections for one that was suitable and booked it in the Reisezentrum at the main station in Bonn. The process was really smooth as the agent just entered my details, I payed with debit card and got printout of all the tickets. Again there was a slew of documents for both ways of the trip:

  1. Travel itinerary
  2. Train ticket for me
  3. Bike ticket
  4. Reservation for bike rack

The connection that I got had a bunch of transfers:

Bonn → Düsseldorf → Arnhem → Zwolle → Groningen

Packing for the trip has been ad-hoc at best. I just took my two rear panniers and filled them with clothes and stuff that I think I’d need. Last year I had an additional bike bag, this time I took my backpack instead, giving me slightly less volume. Contrary to last year I took my laptop, so I actually should have brought more stuff with me. However, the bags do not feel as full; I guess I just brought much more food last time.

The trip started on a slightly rainy morning. These are the weather conditions where one can either get slightly damp from rain or wear the rain gear and get slightly damp from sweat. There is no way to do it right. At the main station in Bonn I had fun with the elevators. They are still small, but I now have the technique to use them without breaking my rear mudguard again.

Usually the placement of the train cars is listed on a bulletin on the platform. For some reason my exact train was missing there, and I had no idea where the bike car would be. An older couple who were also traveling with their bikes had the same issue. The IC train ended up being a very new one with four bike spots in the first and another four in the last car. By luck I got into the one that I had the reservation for, fastened the bike with the seat belt and took a seat. My brother who was also traveling with me found us adjacent seats and we had a nice trip to Düsseldorf.

After arriving in Düsseldorf the other three bike travelers had to exit as well. They all had electric bikes with usually weigh much more than my one. Also they are not used to carry them, so it took a while for them to exit the train with all their luggage. It is always nice to lend a hand there, and it goes much faster for everyone then.

We did not even bother with the elevators, I just carried it down the stairs. The capacity of the elevators is not even one bike, and the throughput is mediocre. Booking the trains with at least 15 minutes of transfer time helps a lot, though!

The train to Arnhem was already at the platform.

../../_images/abr.jpg

The first part of the train said “Arnhem”, the second part said “Wesel”. They split it up at that city, and if you had entered in the wrong car, you would have to change train cars in Wesel. As this train does a lot of stops, it took almost two hours to arrive in Arnhem. Luckily the train was rather empty to begin with and there was ample space to put my bike:

../../_images/bike-in-abr.jpg

We had long conversations along the way, interrupted only by people who wanted to pick a fight with each other or seemed a bit drunk already. As it was King’s day in the Netherlands on this weekend we expected to see a bunch of people who were really enjoying the day. During one of the stops in the Netherlands I saw that there were endless bike racks with roofs outside the station. I guess this is how one can tell that one has crossed the border: bike infrastructure.

../../_images/bike-racks-from-abr.jpg

At Arnhem the elevator was not only large enough to fit my easily, my brother could also just hop in. There was a glass waiting room at the platform, and the windy weather really made us feel glad that it was there. I did not fully understand the announcements made in Dutch, except for the most irrelevant part (alcohol being forbidden). In the DB Navigator app I saw that the train that we wanted to take to Zwolle was canceled. This was not a big issue, the next train would just arrive half an hour later. Then however, the IC to Zwolle showed up at the regular time and we just took it. I do not understand what happened there, likely the information that Deutsche Bahn has was just outdated.

The Dutch IC trains seem to be older than most German trains. They are always painted in orange and blue, which feels really strange in contrast to the red and white trains.

../../_images/dutch-ic.jpg

I think that really one should compare the Dutch IC trains with the German RE trains. There are no reservations for seats and also there are many bike compartments in each train. On this particular one I did not see a bike symbol at first, so I asked the conductor (in Dutch) whether I could take my bike on that train and was told to try the other end of the train.

../../_images/bike-in-dutch-ic.jpg

There was another person with a bike already on the train, sitting on the little folding seat right next to the door. He did not offer to swap seats with my brother, so we just continued our conversation diagonally across the bike compartment.

The transfer in Zwolle was very brief. My travel itinerary showed a connection half an hour later, but we just tried to catch the one going six minutes later. It worked just fine. This way we cut out half an hour of waiting time from our total travel.

In total the trip was very pleasant, no delays, no change of platforms, always enough room for the bike and nothing broken in elevators.

My hotel

We walked from the main station to the north east of the city where both my hotel and my brother’s shared condo are located. Groningen is not that large, so walking from that neighborhood to the main station takes about half an hour.

It turned out that my hotel was not really a hotel building but rather rooms in apartments of the type that usually are shared by students.

../../_images/floresstraat-51a.jpg

This way I got to experience the real authentic Groningen student lifestyle. One big advantage of this setup is that you have access to a proper kitchen and fridge such that one can cook meals instead of having to eat at a restaurant every single day. This has made the trip less expensive.

../../_images/room-panorama.jpg

This hotel somehow feels like wrongful use of these apartments. The rent in Groningen is already cripplingly high, renting rooms to tourists only makes this worse. I just hope that they have a proper license to do so from the city.

Breakfast is served at the reception office, it is located in a shop-like location a little down the street. I never met anyone else for breakfast there, but I had a few nice chats with the employees there doing paperwork while I had my breakfast.

Food

There is an Albert Heijn supermarket directly down the street from the room that I stayed in. Even though it was King’s Day when I arrived, the shop was opened. And also on Sundays it is open, although with a little shorter opening hours. This means that one does not really have to think about opening days that much and can just buy groceries every single day of the week.

Prices for food are higher than in Germany. I take the Nature Valley Crunchy cereal bars as a benchmark. In Germany they cost 2.00 EUR, whereas in Dublin I payed 3.00 EUR. In Groningen I have payed 2.40 EUR for them. Everything else was more expensive as well. To my large surprise a plain cheese pizza at Domino’s was just 5.00 EUR, which is less than at the pizza joint near my home in Bonn. And also it was much better!

At that pizza place you could only pay with debit card:

../../_images/pinnen.jpg

In Germany you always have to ask whether you can pay with debit card. You either get a surprised “of course” or an annoyed “only from 10 EUR”, which makes the first answer even more weird. I have only payed the entry to the nightclub with cash, everything else with debit card.

Bread was rather bad, as expected. At breakfast they asked me whether I want white or brown bread, and one should just rather call them “bread” and colored “bread” to do it right. You can buy better packaged bread in German supermarkets.

../../_images/waldkorn.jpg

Party

On King’s Day we went to a Goa party. The club is located in the outskirts and did not really see many people that went there because it was King’s Day. It did not surprise me that people were smoking marijuana outside, but I was surprised by the variety of other stuff people put in their body there. However it was not a nuisance at all because people were really civilized all the time. I have had rather bad experiences of being the sober one on parties, but this was a nice surprise.

Outside I was talking to various locals, as usual I started the conversation in Dutch and more or less quickly then switched to English. Particularly funny was one person who told me all about the critical thinking stuff that he dug out. So for instance the name US American space agency NASA means “to deceive” in Hebrew. He asked me why they would have picked this name if they were not going to be deceptive after all. Additionally he questioned that the earth was rotating because he does not feel a thing. I did not tell him that I was a physicist, I just tried to sow some doubts. Additionally the earth is not a sphere after all. There supposedly was an experiment conducted by the navy where they shone a laser onto another ship and when the other ship receded the laser supposedly did not leave the side of the ship. This obviously proves that the earth is not a sphere, at least not with the radius that we all thought it had.

Bike infrastructure

Groningen supposedly is a particular bike friendly city, even for Dutch standards. You can find side street crossings that look like the following everywhere:

../../_images/elevated-crossing.jpg

Cars turning will have to go over the elevation, but pedestrians can just go straight. This directly marks the priorities, which I really like.

Another nice touch is this bridge where the car traffic has to yield to the bike traffic and then pretty much share the bike lane.

../../_images/bike-on-bridge.jpg

This is completely different to the way it is handled in Bonn. The Viktoriabrücke is a bridge currently under reconstruction. Due to the partial demolition it is more narrow than before. As part of the »Bike Capital 2020« campaign it was decided that it makes most sense to have two lanes for cars on the street and just cram cyclists going both direction on the pedestrian lane on one side of the bridge.

In residential areas there are sometimes fitted with parallel streets. There is a main street for cars and a second one for bikes. When some resident wants to reach their driveway, they need to slowly drive the last stretch over the bike lane.

../../_images/separated-street.jpg

Along commuting routes one can find trash cans that are accessible directly from the bike. This is a nice touch.

../../_images/commuter-trash-can.jpg

The modal share supposedly is 40 % of bikes. This of course means that they have to be parked somewhere. In residential streets the balance between bike racks and car parking spots nicely reflects the model share:

../../_images/residential-street1.jpg

Also at the main station there is ample opportunity to park one’s bike:

../../_images/bikes-at-main-station.jpg

But in most streets there are actually more bikes than can be nicely fitted somewhere. So a lot of pedestrian lanes are obstructed by bikes. I like this better than obstructions by car, but I’d prefer the pedestrian lanes to be clear.

../../_images/bike-pedestrian.jpg

Due to the great cycle infrastructure pizza is delivered via bike and not by car:

../../_images/dominos-bikes.jpg

City

Most flats are rather small and do not have a garden. One finds a lot of parks scattered all across the city, it is really nice to walk around. There are lakes everywhere and lots of green.

../../_images/park.jpg

As usual for Dutch cities there are lots of water running through the city. The following picture was taken from a nice meeting spot.

../../_images/riverside.jpg

The city center also has a priority for bikes and spaces for people, not cars.

../../_images/public-space.jpg

No wonder that the people of Groningen are content with their city.

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

The university features old and new buildings, it looks very fancy!

../../_images/university-1.jpg
../../_images/university-2.jpg

And of course they have serious bike parking.

../../_images/bike-garage.jpg

Stolen bike

My bike has served me well since 2012, but towards the end of my stay it was stolen right from the bike rack in front of my hotel. It was locked with a decent lock onto that metal hoop, which is set in concrete there. Either they have picked the lock or cut it open, there was no way that they could have taken it otherwise.

../../_images/stolen-bike.jpg

I noticed when I could not find the house with my room in it. The past days I had just looked for my bike, but on that day I just walked past. This confused me and I started doubting myself. I was sure that I placed the bike there, just the same feeling I had when the last one got stolen.

I went to the main police station in the center of the city and reported the theft. Filing charges took perhaps 20 minutes, and the policeman was very friendly. Luckily I had the original bill for the bike on my phone. I did not want to have any doubts about the ownership of my bike when I am traveling, so it came handy for this unfortunate incident as well.

For the return trip that meant having to walk to the main station and carrying my panniers. The train rides turned out to be a bit more pleasant as I did not need as much transfer time and could take an actual seat instead of sitting in the bike compartments.

../../_images/luggage-on-return.jpg

Interestingly there is free WIFI in the Dutch trains. Once I got into ABR, there was a free WIFI from the Arriva company. But once the train departed the network just disappeared. Maybe it was only within the station of Arnhem.