Friday, May 3:
Left work early, left car at University of Surrey parking lot, took train to Gatwick and British Airways City Express to Schipol airport, about 1 hour flight. Took 2 trains to Utrecht central station, about 40 minute trip. Lots of office buildings in industrial parks and graffiti. Utrecht seemed gritty with lots of immigrants and no-goods hanging around the train station. Stopped at the Hilton hotel to get a map and directions, then walked to the Hotel Ouwi in the suburbs, 25 minute walk. The chap said the hotel was full this weekend so it was a good thing we'd reserved. The room was small but had a nice view over the canal at the back.
Saturday, May 4:
It was overcast, windy and chilly, about 8 deg. Louise wanted to rent bikes so we walked downtown after breakfast to the "museum quarter" which has lots of antique stores on narrow pedestrian streets. Saw the church tower (tallest one in Holland) and cathedral. After stopping at the tourist information centre to buy a map of the countryside, walked to 2 bike shops (the first one was closed Sunday and Monday) and rented 2 Dutch bicycles. The man told us to lock them up as many bikes get stolen. Went to the music museum, in an old church with an excellent collection of music boxes and dance organs. A Dutch girl demonstrated them and sang a Dutch folk song accompanied by a barrel organ. I liked a player piano that did The Sunny Side of the Street, and another one with 3 mechanical violins.
Had a fallafel for lunch, then biked back to the hotel to put on warmer clothes. I'd forgotten that northern Europe can get quite chilly - it was more like the tail end of winter than the start of spring. We rode east and south into the country and saw WWII bunkers, forts and a nice forest with a youth hostel in it. Stopped for tea at the University of Utrecht's botanical garden. The map I got was useful; headed for a town in the country but decided it was too far away. Turned back towards Utrecht, saw lots of fast trains and excellent bike trails, well-marked with destinations and distances. Locked bikes up in front of the hotel, changed and walked up the main street to town. Some of the restaurants were more expensive but we found a good one with Greek and Italian food, accompanied by loud music on the CD player. There were lots of young people there, even a stag party (one guy dressed up like a red Indian) so we had a nice time. Louise had tagliatelle and I had pork chops with mushroom sauce and red wine. We noticed that the Dutch are energetic, always on the move. Alot more people ride and take the bus than drive. You'd even see couples out on 1 bicycle, with the girl riding side-saddle on the parcel shelf at the back. It looked like a great way to get around, good exercise and fun. They have tremendous trails with separate traffic lights for bikes, cars and pedestrians. Their taxes are quite high but at least they get nice bike trails.
Sunday, May 5:
Louise was entertained by a lady and her little boy in the breakfast room. It was raining out but we wanted to get our money's worth on the bicycles (plus nothing was open) so we set off north along 4-lane roads and then a canal. Stopped at Queen Juliana's park which had ducks and chickens. Rode alongside a canal which had a long row of houseboats with people living in them. Saw lots of barges on the canal and big country houses (the real estate in Holland is very expensive so most people live in small houses or apartments). Lots of sheep in the fields, little lambs who were careful not to fall into the ditches (polders). The rain turned into drizzle. I'd put on my contact lenses so it was better than wearing glasses, and we both had rain coats and pants so didn't get wet. Stopped in Breukelen (which inspired the name Brooklyn in New York) for morning coffee at a fancy restaurant with candles and yellow tablecloths. There were lots of other bikers there too, including a gang of Americans on a week-long bike tour. Another American man driving a car asked me for directions as he was lost. Had our lunch near a campground, then rode across a man-made dike separating 2 big lakes. It was a resort area near Hilversum, about 15 miles southeast of Amsterdam. Saw a few windmills in the country and lots of trees in straight rows. The towns were quite pretty, very quiet. Returned to Utrecht by the barge canal. Louise got a flat tire on her bike about 3 miles away from downtown Utrecht so we walked back (took almost an hour) and parked both bikes behind the Park Plaza Hotel which had a security camera. Then we found a nice Italian restaurant, very cosy and warm. Louise had lasagna and I had pizza and red wine, big portions and quite filling. Watched TV at the hotel, lots of English stations.
Monday, May 6:
It was beautiful and sunny so the ducks on the canal behind the hotel were quacking like mad. Looked like a good day for biking in the country, so we took our suitcases on the city bus and locked them at the train station. Took Louise's bike with flat tire back to the bike shop. The man gave us a replacement and also knocked $10 off the bill for 3 days. Utrecht looked quite a bit nicer in the sunshine; we found more things to like about it the longer we were there. Rode west this time, past modern office buildings and across a big bridge. Saw another bridge being built, went to 2 small towns. Bought bread and cheeze at the grocery store, then had a picnic near a trailer park in the country. It was sunny and clear out. Talked to a chap about the immigration situation - by coincidence, this was the same day that an anti-immigration Dutch politician got shot. Returned to Utrecht by 3 PM, passing through more small towns and industrial estates. Felt sad to leave the bikes behind, thought we got our money's worth. Took 2 trains to Schipol. The flight back was only 45 minutes and we had to sit in different rows. Louise talked to a teacher from Ottawa who was working in Surrey. Her flight out on Friday evening was delayed for 5 hours because of thunderstorms so she got to her Amsterdam hotel at 3 AM. We were pleased that everything went smoothly on our trip and we had good connections everywhere. Got sunburned today.
It was 10 years ago that Louise and I went to Holland for the 1st time. There was another Floriade flower festival on, but we didn't go to it this time. Louise is all ready to go back again for more biking on the trails. England is more quaint and lush, but Holland is flat and has better facilities for biking and the people are more energetic. Both places are quite crowded.
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