A Cycle Revolution

Europe part 1 | Netherlands & Belgium | Day 390

Chapter two, Europe, our second continent of this trip. Inside the high-tech shimmering Amsterdam airport, next to the luggage carousels, we unboxed and assembled our bikes. Normally we would throw our bike boxes on top of some cheap taxi and worry about putting them together later at a guesthouse, but those times are over for now. We’re in the the land of the euro, and our wallets are going to feel it. For the next couple months we will navigate our way past the expensive lodging to the crummier hostel bunks and campgrounds, only indulge in whiffs of overpriced delicious food on our way to the grocery store, and really perfect our hobo lifestyle in order to experience as much history and countryside we can while not breaking the bank.

Peddling out from the airport we were floored by a well marked bicycle lane leading straight into town. Soon we were in rush hour traffic, and we’re not talking honking cars with billowing exhaust fumes, we’re talking bicycle traffic; whizzing of wheels and a flurry of bicycle bells. Our first main bicycle highway swarming with cyclists on their daily commute zooming by from all directions, was dizzying at first. Business men in suits, women in heels with gucci bags slung over their shoulder were all pedaling at amazing speeds. The bicycle traffic seemed heavier than the car traffic. The infrastructure was impressive with bicycle traffic lights, bicycle police, bicycle lanes everywhere, and bicycle parking garages; it was truly beautiful. 

"Women in heels with gucci bags slung over their shoulder were all pedaling at amazing speeds."

We dove into the scurrying masses, weaving our way through the web of cycle lanes across the city. It actually felt a bit intimidating, having never cycled with so many other cyclists before. Not soon after hitting downtown, we ran into a fellow long term cyclist. Alex’s bicycle looked as if it were weighted with cement blocks; this guy had everything loaded on him, including a full size djembe. We stopped at a beautiful park and talked gear, he was thinking of transitioning to bikepacking and once he lifted our bikes with one hand, and we discovered we couldn’t even lift his, he was pretty sold on the whole concept. 

As we made our way across town we stopped at a trendy “coffeeshop,” and picked up a joint. Our campground that evening was on a small “beach” overlooking a lake which felt a little like an amusement park. We weren’t the only one’s on a budget, as the campground was jam packed with tents butted right up to one another. We settled in with our J and talked with a Spaniard about his cycle trip across Europe until we became to high and self conscious to continue the conversation and excused ourselves to our tent to eat some cookies.

Huge thanks to Rob and Emma on WarmShowers.org who let us crash at their cute flat in SouthEast Amsterdam for a couple nights. We drank some damn good beer as we heard all about their adventures cycling across Patagonia and Eastern Europe. They helped us wrap our heads around one of the most liberal countries in the world and how their political system, taxes, and health care system operated. This would be a continuous conversation with everyone we met throughout Europe. 



"There are 23,000 miles bike lanes which are physically segregated from motor traffic in the Netherlands."

After spending a couple days staring at badass dutch paintings, walking the red-light district, and admiring the canals of Amsterdam, we hit the road. There are 23,000 miles bike lanes which are physically segregated from motor traffic in the Netherlands; We pointed our wheels in the direction of Belgium and bike paths appeared before us the entire way. It was completely flat, easy ridin’ along the West coast towards Brugge, and that childlike joy of simply riding a bike came back. Camping is a little different than back home, most were more geared towards camper vans, wedged between cities and towns. It felt a lot more suburban than the great outdoors we are used to back in the states, and we had a whole new appreciation for the amount of land we have to indulge in. During the summer little farms turn their backyards into parking campgrounds with communal bathrooms and kitchens. A few times we found ourselves pitched in the back off their land overlooking golden wheat fields as we checked emails and surfed the web… ah camping.

Crossing the border into Belgium was pretty anti-climatic, and we didn’t even notice until the “cuteness level” hit an all time high. Little brick cottages equipped with pruned bushes, flowers, colorful Flemish shutters were almost too much. Bruges, one of my favorite little cities in Europe, is a fairy tale of a city; Different colored brick homes were butted right up against each other, wandering skinny little roads lead over arched bridges to plazas. There are canals full of swans, parks, windmills, cobbled streets, mid-evil churches, castles surrounded by willow trees, and little pathways through courtyards which lead to secret nooks of the city. Sure, it was touristy, but they have done a hell of a job preserving and re-storing the magical sixteenth century feel of Bruges. Belgium felt like it was straight out of a Thomas Kinked painting. 

We rode along side a series of canals and streams across the country from Bruges, to Ghent, to Brussels, hopping on and off enchanting little dirt tracks through the woods, and eventually crossing the border into France. Through small towns and farms, giant clydesdale horses, and fuzzy sheep like in Wallace and Gromet.The riding was so easy and mindless we were able to listen to Michael Thomas Spanish audio tapes in attempts to brush up before our South America trip.  

"Hopping on and off enchanting little dirt tracks through the woods, and eventually crossing the border into France."

"Belgium felt like it was straight out of a Thomas Kinked painting." 

Riding bikes in this part of the world is pretty stress free. The road was flat, camping was easy, grocery stores had everything we could ever dream of. We were back in the ol’ reliable “system.” Things work as expected and you knew what to expect. Crime is low, buying a bus ticket is self explanatory and safe, cities are well designed, campgrounds are as clean and equipped as hotels, it was the little things we had previously taken for granted that we could now see how lucky we were to have. Even though things were a little less adventurous, the predictability of being in a stable, organized, and well-off country was relaxing, just to simply enjoy the countryside and ride bikes. 



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