A Load of Polders
A Trip to the Low Countries with the Cappuccino Kid
Where do you go in late October for a cheap bike tour away from the mild coast of North Wales? Try Belgium and Holland - bike friendly, flat but very windy and so uphill without the hills!
We, (that is Reg Cave, a 75 year old world adventurer, and myself) left Penmaenmawr for Hull which is a mere 3 hours away compared to maybe the 7 to 10 hours it would take to drive to Dover or Portsmouth.
We parked for free at P & O Terminal and Reg went for his first coffee (cappuccino of course) on the luxury boat: single bunks, shared cabin, there and back for £93 each.
We sailed overnight into Zeebrugge and at eight in the morning Belgium was not quite awake, so we took another coffee stop to buy a map. (We had planned only the ferry - I told you we were adventurous.) Then across the fen type country to the beautiful city of Bruges, which was some 20 miles inland. We went the pretty way.
Bruges (photo: www.visit-bruges.com)
What a fabulous, biscuit-tin lid place. We booked into a hotel for two nights with a basement full of hire bikes and an Afghan manager. Reg`s mention of the Taliban did not seem to go down too well! We had a ground floor room in what looked remarkably like a Lace Shop Window Front - I said we were adventurers but maybe they got that bit wrong.
On the second day we joined some American and Dutch holiday-makers on an organised bike tour along the Napoleon Canal to Damme on the Dutch border. The pretty guide had me taped and wickedly asked me to name 5 famous Belgians. I could only think of the Muscles from Brussels, Claude van Damme, and that little detective with a silly 'tash and sillier accent, Hercule Poirot. Then a racing bike passed proudly displaying the name of the most famous of all Tour De France winners, Eddie Mercyx. She was impressed: the Americans couldn't even remember one.
So we finally said a sad farewell to Belgium and cycled into Holland after going about 30 miles along tree lined canals and special cycle paths all the way. We crossed by special ferry to Middleburg in Holland.
Could we find a hotel? Reg had to have a strong cappuccino in a roadside café to seek assistance. We found a two star one near the railway station, and, wait for it, Reg said, "Do you mind if we have single rooms? Your night noises keep me awake."
"I can’t help snoring," I replied. "It’s all that bloody coffee"
No luck, however: only a large twin room but with a great view over the river.
Reg suggested Amsterdam for the day by train. What a great idea! Reg has been from North Wales to Hong Kong all the way by train so the 'Dam was nothing.
We did the touristy bits of Amsterdam by boat and and on foot. Reg was in need of another fix as we were both getting tired - all this walking and looking in windows can be exhausting.
I suggested a dubious looking bar: well what could I say at three in the afternoon. Some girls with not a lot on handed Reg his Cappuccino and my Amstel very promptly. It must have been hot and very dusty in the place, as one of the girls jumped up on to the bar and started moving up and down. I couldn't see a duster but maybe she was wearing one. We were in our cycling gear and didn't look the part. We forced down a couple more drinks and left for Middleburg.
That evening we visited friends of my late father-in-law who explained that they had his Royal Marine tunic which was torn by shrapnel when he courageously landed in Holland to help liberate the country in World War 2.
Our friends told us that we had 100 kms to cycle the following day: up the polders to Rotterdam. The polders are huge dams built to protect Holland from the sea. They are several miles long.
Our non-cycling chats provided good fun and included discussions about walking in South America, Croatia and Reg`s famous climb up the Matterhorn at the age of 70.
He also told a story about his days as a docker in Liverpool. He went to meet his wife's mother for the first time after one year of marriage. She was a bit posh.
"Oh Reginald, so nice to meet you at last! And what do you do?"
He answered in his best nasal Bootle accent, "I'm a docker."
"How wonderful!" she replied. "I always wanted my daughter to marry a medical man."
When he old her what he really did she didn't speak to him again for a long time!
Open fields & sky in Holland Photo:-www.exploitz.com/pictures/4296/index.php
So came the final day. Hell on earth: a force 7 gale and an icy cold Siberian (Reg has been there as well) head wind, but, hand on brow, we made it in plenty of time. We cycled nearly 70 miles that day following cycle paths every inch of the way even right into the port terminal building of one of the World’s largest ports - Reg even cycled through the automatic doors into the lounge. In my hometown they are debating yet again whether to allow cycling on the Promenade. Croeso y Cymru.
Back to the plot. We were tired and had a welcome beer. Reg went to our cabin for his shower. I saw him later ambling back looking relaxed. He handed me the key card, which was playing up, and reminded me of the cabin number, which I promptly forgot. I finished having to find somewhere on the boat where I could say, "This bloody card doesn't seem to work." They say age doesn't come on its own.
I would recommend the trip to anyone as long as you have a good travelling coffee man like Reg for a companion!
David Bathers, October 2003
The Cappuccino Kid adds this footnote:
One of the things about this holiday that enormously impressed me was the terrific provision for cycling in Belgium and even more so in Holland.
A Dutch street
We went everywhere by cycleways, which were superbly maintained. We did not see a single piece of glass during the whole time. Often we noticed what had obviously been country roads in the past, fully two and more lanes wide, now converted to cycle tracks with vehicles prohibited.
The towns likewise were a cyclist's paradise. It seemed as if almost the whole Dutch population cycled. In the towns during the rush hour there were far more bikes than cars. Nearly everyone seemed to cycle to work so that even during peak periods there was never anything resembling traffic congestion. Consequently there was far less pollution than in our towns. We in this country could learn an awful lot from Holland when it comes to cycling and creating a healthy environment.
To visit a website giving details of the many canal paths that can be cycled in Belgium click here
To visit a website for Belgian B & B which welcomes cyclists and where English is spoken click here