There's a lot of Tulips Here!
Monday 17th April 2017
Today we set off on a little 40 miler to the coastal towns of Katwijk and Noordwijk, and to get there we pottered along dedicated cycle track for nearly all of our journey. Therefore, for most of the time the only other traffic we had to contend with were other cyclists, but having said that I think some of them thought they were competing in The Tour de France - there were some big 'Peletons' that we had to dodge in both directions. But this didn't detract from our enjoyment, it rather enhanced it, especially when we took our coffee break and sat beside the track to watch them whizz by!
Early in our ride the trail took us through a massive dune system which has been designated a 'Natura 2000 area', and as we cycled along we noted dozens of walking and mountain bike trails branching out from the main one, many of which would have led you through pine woods and open dunes to 'viewing holes' from where you can see the North Sea or some of the bulb fields in the surrounding area.
Then eventually, after about 18 miles we came into the town of Noordwijk and found ourselves riding along it's 1.5 km promenade which is directly above some of it's 13 kms of lovely white sand beach.
And after that it wasn't much further in Katwijk (where we stayed on a previous visit to the Netherlands), and from there we only rode a little further back out into the dunes on the other side before we found an ideal spot to sit and sun ourselves while we ate our lunch!
From there our circular ride was completed by a return trip through the bulb fields which once again set both our 👃 👃 twitching as we inhaled some more of the lovely hyacinth fragrance that constantly pervades the air, and then we nipped down beside the canals and lakes that are home to numerous wind mills - a place that we plan to explore more thoroughly on another ride out!
Tuesday 18th April 2017
Well today was to be one of the major outings that we'd come to this area for - we went to 🌷🌷 'Keukenhof' 🌷🌷 which is said to be one of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world, and it certainly wasn't a disappointment! We had no idea there were so many different varieties, colours or characters to be found in tulips, but also there was an amazing display of many other plants that come from bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, Amaryllis, and both outdoors and indoors the varieties were mind boggling with fantastic displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, lilies and orchids to name but a few!
We also had the opportunity to visit the Tulpomania Exhibition where we were informed that about 62% of the worlds flowering bulbs come from the Netherlands and many of them from The Bollenstreek (bulb region), an area that developed towards the end of the 16th century.
Here we also learnt that it takes about 25 years to develop new 'strains' of tulip starting with cross pollination, sowing the seeds and the development of the bulbs - which will only start to flower after about 5 years. Then comes selection - only special 'new' tulips will be kept - ultimately about 99.9% will be discarded because they fail to stand out in colour, shape or another positive feature! Finally, with a good measure of patience (25 years worth) the growers are rewarded with a 'new variety' that can go on sale!
Our delight was also added to by listening to The Auriaen Street Organ which was built quite recently in 1978 by Henk v/d Heuvel Sr. from old organ parts and was named after an ancient windmill from Haarlem. A few years later the organ was restored and expanded by a company in Belgium which is the biggest organ factory in the world which still makes new organs today. The organ has 75 keys, 11 registers, 406 organ pipes and percussion, and it plays on the perforated book system which which was invented in 1897.
All kinds of music can be played on it and we were quite amused to see that this included The Beach Boys, Grease, Glen Miller and many more! Apparently, new music for this and many other organs is produced by Sjoerd Caspers, who, along with the present owner Henk v/d Heuvel Jr. operates The Auriaen and other similar street instruments at events all over the world, and it must be very popular because it's their 28th season playing at Keukenhof!
Wednesday 19th April 2017
Today we had an easy one - just a bit of shopping which we journeyed to and from on our bikes (10 miles) , and then a lazy put our feet up day in preparation for another longer expedition tomorrow 😁
Thursday 20th April 2017
Another day, another bike ride - this time a little under 30 miles and initially into Windmill country. Then it was on into Leiden and finally Sassenheim where we hoped to have a sneak preview of some of the floats that are taking part in the flower parade on Saturday, but they were all very firmly hidden away so we've still got that pleasure to come!
We left the campsite and cycled beside the lakes and canals of the Kagerplassen - a waterway where several windmills can be found, and the ones we saw had mainly been converted into residential properties, but historically the windmills in Holland served many different purposes, the most important probably being pumping water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes. As we went we could only see 4 beautifully restored mills, but apparently in times gone by the country had over 10,000!
And after that our ride got a bit more challenging as we got lost in Leiden 😕 ! This was mainly due to a diversion because of road works, but once we'd missed our way it all became quite confusing, and it was so busy you really needed eyes in your bum to avoid mishap as 🚗🚗🚴🚴🚶🚶🚛🚛 came from every direction, and mostly it seemed, without any consideration for what anybody else was doing! However, as we traversed the streets we did come across Leiden University - there was no mistaking it because it had literally thousands of bikes parked outside, and loads of students whizzing hither and thither! It's apparently the oldest university in the Netherlands and was founded in 1575, and today it's ranked 29th best in the world! Therefore, it's probably not surprising that it can claim the foundations for inventions such as MRI scanning, ECG's, Electric Condensers and many more things that we take for granted today!
Anyway, once we'd set our selves free from Leiden's clutches our ride was completed in a very pleasant and sedate fashion out along more rural cycle tracks that allowed us to admire more bird life along with numerous babies as we went!
Friday 21st April 2017
Our goal for today was the Park-lands on the outskirts of Amsterdam near Amstelveen - an area that has been totally artificially created on unused turf and wet lands, and that is another polder that lies 4 metres below sea level! To get there our ride took us out to another lake - Westeinder Plassen and onto part of the Ringvaart (ring Canal) that surrounds the Haarlemmermeerpolder (where we're staying at the mo on land that lies 6 metres below the sea). When we arrived we found a huge forested area with an extensive network of footpaths, horse trails and cycle tracks, and we also found the Bosbaan rowing lake!
The Bosbaan (translation - Woods Course) is the oldest artificial rowing course in the world and was built in 1936 as part of an employment project. Initially, it only had 5 lanes but it was widened to 6 in 1954 when Amsterdam hosted the European Rowing Championships - the first international event when women were allowed to compete! Since then it's seen major renovations in 2001 which increased it to 8 lanes, and amongst other things, it is now an Olympic training centre!
From there we cycled along lots of tranquil woodland trails where we paused for out picnic before retracing out path homewards, however on the way we encountered 2 other interesting (if not tranquil) sights.
The first was Schiphol Airport - and we had to pass directly under it's main runway flight path - and this was where John insisted we take our coffee break - it was a bit noisy to say the least! 🚁🚀🚁🚀🚁(would you believe there's no emoji for aeroplanes 😁) but while we sat and had out 25 min break no less than 30 planes took off directly over us - John tried very hard to spot if they had Rolls Royce engines!
The second was the test centre for Aluminium Free Fall Life Boats which are used for off shore applications such as oil rigs. The company that produce them is a family business that was founded 75 years ago, but they didn't seem to offer rides! And even if they did I'm not sure we'd have wanted a go anyway!!
However, we did learn that in 2011 an achievement award was given to them because one of their lifeboats had been dropped more than 5000 times with a 100% integrity rate! And if you want to see it in action YouTube will oblige if you look up 'Verhoef Aluminium Free Fall Lifeboats'
Anyway, that's about all for now, but in the next instalment I'll tell you all about the 'Main Event' for this little trip - The 2017 Flower Parade!
Click here to see our camping spots in the Netherlands