Sunday, March 27, 2011 I mean bicycle eurotrip....with Sissy

One day I'll have a better explanation for this event happening, until then, here is the current answer:

Funny story...Sissy and I had been talking about how we were feeling restless. Renting the apartment in Amsterdam was great, but we were falling back into old habits. Talking together lead to the idea of going on a bicycle adventure. "Think of how amazing it would be to slow travel Europe at our own pace.  We can see what we want, sleep where we want, and relax doing it". With phrasing like that Sissy couldn't refuse.  The planning started.  Well "started". I knew a few things; one was we had to be in Spain for early May; we had no rides; and we wanted to tour Italy.

A very loose plan laid out, we began looking for ways to get our bikes over. Unfortunately for us, it is rather expensive to air freight 2 bicycles over from Canada, so we settled on purchasing a couple for the job. We both knew what we wanted immediately. I had decided that I would get a single-speed bike made locally (an engineers dream: Van Moof No. 3) and Sissy was shopping for a traditional Dutch granny bike (BSP, handmade in Holland). 

That's about as far as we got for a while. With our friends coming to visit and 3 weeks with them traveling France and Germany, there wasn't much more planning. The real fun began after we arrived back in Amsterdam. I picked up my new bike as soon as we were back in the city, and started to ride it (with Sissy on the back) around town. Good training. Then, I was browsing the interwebs one afternoon and saw an ad for an outdoor adventure show at the Amsterdam RAI. We cleared our exceptionally busy schedule and headed there the next day.

The show, as you'll have read earlier, was a wealth of information. We were able to find 2 sets of panniers and a cycling map of the Netherlands. We also joined the "Vrieden op de Feits" club, that has a huge listing of cheap houses you can ring up and rent a room for the night.

Matty kept researching at night, coming across the Eurovelo cycling routes. These are routes that follow olde tyme pilgrimage routes. Some go to Bangladesh, some to Santiago de Compostela and Lourdes, some to Rome. We sat around the house, working on the specifics of the first few days' travels. We also bought me an orange (for the Dutch!) BSP omafietsen. Fitting the panniers was more of a problem. Mine fit fine on the granny bike, but Matty had to find a bike shop to switch over his rack for one with smaller diameter tubing. Eventually, with a second-butt, barely used Brooks saddle for me (for which I am grateful still) our bikes were as ready as they could be. 

On Saturday,  March 19th, we left Amsterdam. We packed the bikes and said our goodbyes to our roomates (Katya and Gabor, if you're reading this were alive and well, sitting in a hotel in Crema, Italy). Hopped on the bikes and attempted to pedal down the street.  This didn't go so well, within a few minutes we needed to raise Sissy's seat re-adjust our packs and stop a few times. It quickly dawned on us we were overloaded and one of us may have picked the wrong bike.  Oh well, I guess this is just how things go with us. There was giggling and laughter. We'll make do. We eventually made it to the point we had found earlier in the week to join the fietsnetwork, albeit slowly.

The Feitsnetwork is run by the ANVB. It is, from what I understand, it is like the CAA in Canada. They charge a small fee for a map book consisting of 20 weather and tear proof maps. The book covers the majority of the routes around the Netherlands, and lists everything a traveling cyclist would need. We had selected the LF7 to follow from Amsterdam to Maastrict. We weren't planning on going the entire way, as the Netherlands was just a warm up for the real touring.

Once on the route all we had to do was fallow the signs. It is not that easy. The signs are small and white, they are easy to miss seeing and occasionally non-existent. Only about 30 minutes into the ride and we had missed a few and ended up several kilometers out of our way. Funnily enough, we had passed by a gas station visited with Vicki and Matt on the drive to Schiphol. The reality of our situation was starting to dawn on us. We pressed on anyway and slowly got the hang of the system. We were having a blast, only one goal for the day, find someplace to pitch up a tent around Utrecht. 

We made great time, passing through towns and villages lining the canals. There are so many canals! In Amsterdam, the canals are like streets, and used to be the main transportation method. Out here, there are still canals, but they range in size from large industrial monsters to tiny little midget canals in backyards. There were rowers out in the river, having a regatta; fisher people cooking their catch. It was a gorgeous sunny day.  I think the highlight for me was what was to be our first river crossing. We had been following a small canal for awhile when we saw a person on what looked to be a raft in the middle of the canal. As we got closer all became clear: the raft was a hand operated ferry and we would need to cross over on it to continue  on our way.  What a blast, Sissy and I giggled the entire way across, mainly because we'd be cracking jokes about the villages being like Hobbiton of the Shire, and now we were escaping the Black Riders.

We toodles along canals, big and small until hitting the outskirts of Utrecht. The bike network routes go by the central train station, and since we had lost the LF7 at some point we headed there. The train station led us to bike signs (yes, there are specific signs with distances and directions for cycling) that took us to the LF7 again. We had to go over a large bridge - our first uphills on the bikes. We made it though, slightly out of breath and wishing for gears! We kept waiting for the urbanization to die down, but it seemed that the countryside was too far away. The light was low, and we were exhausted. The decision to find a hotel soon was made, and the iPhone Nagivator ("Naggy" from now on) came out. The only thing available in the area was a Mercure in Nieuwegein, south of Utrecht. 

What a pain to get to! After the LF7, Naggy told us to take an overpass. That just ended. We either had to portage the bikes down 3 flights of stairs (have you ever tried holding back 60 pounds of bike?) or ride these beasts down a grassy hill after lifting them over a railing. We went for option 2.  That was not to be the end of our hotel finding trouble. We next got lost in the shopping mall parking lot for a good half an hour. We fired Naggy for the moment, and used our brains. We made it to the hotel eventually and booked ourselves in. Matt's cheap streak had caused him to be a part of the loyalty program, which means we got a super discount on the room. The hotel had a restaurant, pool and sauna, all of which we planned to use. In the end, we only ate. Everything else was just too difficult. Especially after we had to clean up one of the panniers. Why you ask? Because at some point, the glass bottle of Glauwijn had exploded, soaking two pairs of  shoes, my one souvenir from Paris (along with our maps!), and our cheeses. One of the water bladders also got ruined, as the millions of glass shards punctured it. How did this happen? Somebody of the male sex was being all goofy and going off curbs with his bike. He says it's because he laid it down improperly. Everything worked out though. The shoes went through a period of dampness and repair. The souvenir is slowly still drying. The water bladder is awaiting some form of sealant. And the cheeses are in my belly!

What a day. We went 69 kilometers (and only planned on 50)... what have we gotten ourselves into?

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