Happy Days in Holland
7 Pages: You may want to copy and paste this into a small document and print it out on scrap paper in draft mode for some bedside or bathroom reading. It's more like a chapter of a book than an update ;)
After over five weeks on the English speaking islands of Britain and Ireland I was now on my way back to mainland Europe. I boarded the ferry from Harwich, England bound to Rotterdam, Holland with mixed emotions ranging from total gratitude for all the unforgettable experiences and friendships, to sadness of saying goodbye, excitement for forging into totally unique new lands and a few doses of fear. I had a long seven hour ferry ride to let it all settle in and by the time I hit Holland I was as excited as ever after shedding my first set of tears and planning my route south to Portugal.
I was most excited about reconnecting with the famous “Dutch Princesses” I met in Swaziland, Africa named Karen and Sanne and being finally able to bike everywhere on Holland’s famous cycling lanes. I had not seen these ladies since 2006 and they had an extraordinary welcome in store for me. It was yet another festive Friday evening arrival and the boat was full of British party goers on their way to various Dutch cities for a weekend of fun. My goal was to arrive before sunset so I hopped a train to the town of Utrecht, Holland where Karen, Sanne and a new Dutch Princess Martina were waiting for me at the station to escort me back to my own studio apartment so graciously donated by another woman named Sanne who is currently working in Brussels, Belgium.
After settling into my apartment we popped open some champagne I picked up at the duty free boat shop and Karen pulled brought out the most amazing dinner ever of traditional Dutch cooking. I forget the exact name of the dish, but it was a blend of potatoes and a green vegetable with huge meatballs. It was delicious! We spent the first part of the evening listening to music, eating, drinking and laughing like the good ole days back in Swaziland.
After dinner and drinks we were all ready to hit the town and keep the good vibes flowing. Unlike in the UK and Ireland, everyone rides bikes and Karen loaned me her Dutch “citybike” that I immediately fell in love with. We pedaled off onto endless car-free cycle lanes into down town with our lights on, into the city center, riding by a canal where hundreds of Dutch folks were outside enjoying dinner and drinks and sucking in the perfect evening weather.
We hit our first pub where more cool Dutch folks were out socializing and I met some very cool and soulful new Dutchies before finally heading out to get our groove on. We ended up at a lively bar-nightclub hybrid joint where we danced the night away, laughing, twirling and grooving until about 4:30 in the morning. It was an epic Friday night in Utrecht!
The next day Karen had a lovely breakfast ready for us and afterwards we went out exploring the city including a Turkish street fair, a tour of a traditional Dutch windmill that uses wind to saw logs and an adventure into the city center to run some errands and check the sites. After a brief nap we were ready for another night of fun out on the town. After some dinner and wine with Karen and Sanne we made our way downtown with the intentions to have a far more mellow night than the one before and I was on the hunt for some guest riders to accompany me on my journey through Holland.
It was a mellow evening visiting a few pubs and introducing Karen to her first Mojito. We finally ended up at the only pub around that did not have a huge line or cramped dancing space where I was happy to finally meet some Dutch men. After 2 weeks in mostly female company I was ready for testosterone, and two chaps in particular Joffery and Daan were a breath of fresh air to rap out with about things we just don’t talk about with the Dutch Princesses. There was one guy in particular named Daan den Hollander who I connected with quite well and I had a feeling he would be joining me for part of my ride.
The next few days in Utrecht were pretty mellow and having my own space in Sanne’s apartment was quite a blessing. I was feeling a bit rundown with a minor cold and quite tired so I was able to catch some sleep, do some writing and relax plenty. I was also feeling sad but did not know where it was really coming from until I did some writing and realized how much I was missing so many of my friends from the UK, Ireland and more. I had not really taken much time to just be sad and feel my feeling since bouncing right into a wild weekend in Holland so it came in the back door and caught up with me. But after a nice hardy cry I released it and was ready for adventure. I spent some days just melding into life in Holland, playing squash with Karen and Sanne, eating endless great meals cooked by Karen and chatting, sharing and planning the adventure south to Belgium.
I invited Karen to come out for a ride and her only day off was Friday so we planned to meet up in Maastricht Thursday evening and ride together out of Holland to Brussels to meet my apartment donor and her good friend Sanne living in Brussels. Now all I needed was another ride to take me out of town and Daan and I had been exchanging some emails so we decided to meet for a drink after his day at work to make a plan. It did not take much time looking over the map of Holland to convince Daan that it would be worth him taking a half day off work to come join the adventure. So I was set! I had at least two Dutch Peace Pedalers ready to rock and life was good!
Daan is a marketing guru currently playing the corporate game but with a few entrepreneurial plans in motion so we knew we would have plenty to talk about as we rode southeast out of Utrecht. I picked him up at the train station after yet another perfect breakfast prepared by Karen. Daan was ready to rock and so excited for the mysterious adventures ahead. He managed to get at least a half day off work and our early start meant several hours of pedaling together on the charming back roads provided by the LF Route system in Holland that would take me all the way to Maastricht.
Daan and I got along like brothers since the first day we met and it was a pleasure to be out riding with him. We shared a lot in common, especially our passion for business, sports and making a difference in the world. We rode by tons of canals, rivers, cute homes, old farmhouses, windmills, through rich forests and through countless charming Dutch villages. We ran the cameras for about an hour and Daan shared his heart with the world as Holland rolled on by. Every second of the adventure was truly bliss.
But eventually time caught up with us and we had to get Daan to s-Hertogenbosch to catch his train back to the office. We would have loved to keep riding together but for now we had to get the pedals cranking so he would not show up too late and I could sense that he was already feeling the stress of the office sneaking it’s way even over 60km away. We took a few wrong turns that delayed us and had the hub of my trailer wheel disintegrated just as we rode into s-Hertogenbosch but he finally made it to the train station and said our sad goodbye. We had built a solid friendship those last few days and I’m happy to say we’re still in touch and I’m hoping to see him in the USA for the final shindig next November.
The hub of my trailer wheel was literally history and would not even roll so I had to find a solution. I was lucky to find a local shop with some darn good mechanics who were able to rebuild the hub like new in less than an hour and I was soon rolling solo out of heading south. The cycling road continued to bless me with excellent scenery, the sun came out in full force and a gentle tail wind even nudged me along. I rode by hundreds of Shetland Ponies that for some reason the Dutch like to raise. At about the 115km mark I was pretty darn pooped, hungry and ready to start looking for a place to camp for the night.
One Shetland Pony in particular inspired me to stop when I made eye contact with her and there was a picnic table right there so I stopped for an early dinner. The pony came right up to me and we became buddies right away. She even gave me a kiss on my cheek. I mowed down some four sandwiches, several bananas and some chocolate before pedaling forward where I soon found a flat, grassy, lakeside campsite to die for. I found my home for the night and my sprits were high! I bathed in the cold lake and hit the hay early to try to beat off the cold that was still trying to slow me down and got long nights sleep.
The next morning I woke up to clear blue skies reflecting off the glassy lake. I slept in quite late as I woke up at 6AM with the same stuffy nose and sore throat so hit the snooze bar until about 10. By then I was feeling stronger and ready for another mysterious day of Peace Pedaling but knew I was way behind schedule. I pedaled off on the quiet back roads towards the town of Eindhoven where I planned to have some lunch before continuing onwards.
While I was approaching Eindhoven a smiling woman in her 40’s or so came pedaling beside me and struck up a conversation. She had been tailing me for a few kilometers curious what my big setup was all about. Her name was Ine and I shared the Peace Pedalers project and told her I was heading into town for some lunch. She offered to escort me to an affordable restaurant but as we hit the crossroads she went the extra mile and invited me to her house and offered to cook me lunch!
I wheeled my entire bike into her apartment where she raises her two children. She was preparing to fly to Mali in West Africa the next day to meet her Malian boyfriend and during our lunch I was able to share a bunch of great photos and fun stories of Africa. I asked her what made her trust me so quickly and invite me into her house and she said it was her intuition and by looking at me in the eyes. She is a quite spiritual and cultured woman and we got along super well. She would have loved to come riding with me but had to pack for Mali so I hit the road solo feeling quite tired and ready for a break.
I looked at the time and realized that with my late start and the stop at Ine’s I was not going to be able to make it to Maastricht by sunset where I planned to reconnect with Karen and her friend Ingeborg for dinner and my place to stay that evening. I opted to hop a train and by just looking at the map I felt inspired to buy a ticket to a small town of Sittard, which was about a 30-40km ride from Maastricht. This is where it starts to get good!
When the train arrived I only had a few minutes to load all my gear onto the train. Usually there is a special car for bikes but in this case I could not see any carriage with any bike sign on it. The conductors were being quite rude when I asked for their support in getting me and my gear on the train and I was starting to panic a bit. Just then a cheery guy came out of nowhere and pointed out the bike carriage. He then said, “Do you need some help?” Of course I said yes and when I looked back this guy had the entire trailer in one arm and two of my heavy Ortlieb panniers in the other. Obviously this guy was strong and knew we had to act fast.
Just as we loaded all the gear in the doors shut and off we went. His name was Vincent and we got along super well right from the get go. We grabbed a seat together I explained my adventures and he went on to explain his own, which included his own global bike touring adventures with his 3-wheel trike-styled machine--kindred spirits unite! And, here’s the clincher, Vincent lives in the exact town where I haphazardly bought my ticket to of Sittard! He also just got off early that day from work and was free to ride! Obviously, we were meant to meet!
Vincent is in his early thirties and works as consultant by trade. He has dreams to do some big bike tours but like most of the world but is waiting for the right time to head out. We got off in Sittard, built up the tandem and were off pedaling to a restaurant owned by a friend of his where he treated us both to a plate of delicious pasta to fuel us up for our ride to Maastricht. The sun was shining, the town center buzzing with people finishing work and we were both super pumped for the ride.
Vincent is a serious photographer so he grabbed his camera, a change of clothes and off we went. We found a riverside cycling route on the Belgium side of the border and did a filmed ride for about an hour as the perfect light from the setting sun shone off the Dutch countryside on the other side of the river border. Vincent is a wise cat and shared some of great nuggets with me and the world with the cameras running until it was soon too dark to film. We eventually put a light on the camera and were filming and riding a lush forest path in the dark—it was classic.
We arrived in Maastricht in the dark but managed to find a restaurant that our host and Maastricht local Ingeborg recommended we wait for her. Vincent and I hung out, chatting away, building a nice friendship over a few Belgian beers as we reveled in the wake of an epic ride and a perfect day. Ingeborg finally joined us and soon after Karen arrived from Utrecht. I sat there looking around the table full of gratitude—from the meeting of Karen in Africa, to the divine connection with Vincent and now a cool new friend Ingeborg there in Maastricht. Life was grand!
After some drinks and great conversations the time finally came for Vincent to catch the last train back to Sittard. Soon after he left we made our way to Ingeborg’s place where we did our best to find a place for all my gear in her studio apartment. We ended up taking off the tripod from the trailer to get it into the basement and, not knowing it at the time, must have left it outside the door where someone took it while we slept. But at the time we had no clue and went about enjoying yet another home cooked meal by a new Dutch Princess before hitting the sheets for a good nights rest.
Karen was very excited to do the entire 120km ride from Maastricht to Brussels so I knew we would need to get up pretty early to allow us to pull it off and still get some filming in. But when we were finally ready to start packing the bike up after breakfast we realized that I had no tripod or magic arm—two critical filming props I use almost daily when out documenting the expedition. I was pretty bummed out and we went for a full search of the neighborhood, made flyers and even went to the police station. But there was no sign of these two pieces of equipment.
Rather than get too bummed out I sort of saw it as a sign to take the day off filming and just enjoy the presence and experience fully a very good friend sharing a long tandem cycling experience. By the time our search was over and we came back from the police station it was almost 11AM—a far later departure than we had planned. But Karen was so fired up to hammer the pedals and from the first pedal strokes I knew she was going to be a strong force on the bike.
Like most Dutch people, Karen rides her bike regularly and has her entire life. She is also quite an athlete with strong legs, lungs and a competitive spirit (I experienced this playing squash with her when she barely beat me). We could not have asked for better cycling conditions that day with crystal clear blue skies, perfectly mild temperatures and a nice tail wind to keep our average speed in the 20’s. We had a pristine bike lane all the way out of Holland and when we hit Belgium it was, well, not bad but certainly not Holland.
From 11AM to 8PM we were partners out on the roads of Holland and mostly Belgium. We had endless talks that made the kilometers seem like meters and although it was a long day in the saddle for us both it was a truly delightful. The days highlights were Karen disobeying the “Kiss and Ride” sign that cracked us both up, initiating a Belgian boy Peace Pedaler, having a run-in with a friendly police officer who let us slide with a smile after going through a red light, getting an escort through Leuven by a total stranger, getting optical illusions and mild hallucinations outside Brussels, and finally having yet another escort by two friendly old-timer road cyclists into Brussels. It was a day from heaven.
But when we finally arrived into Brussels we were both pretty darn exhausted and had no clue how difficult this city was going to be to navigate. This city is downright stunning, but absolutely the worst cycling city I’ve ever experienced in all of Europe. The roads are narrow and often missing signs, there are no cycling lanes, traffic is heavy and aggressive and the city has a chaotic layout with a city plan that was clearly done by a lunatic. However, after asking half dozen friendly people for directions we finally managed to find our way to the elusive Rue de President where our host for the weekend Freek (pronounced Frek like Freckle) had food prepared, a small party planned and was a sight for sore eyes and legs when we finally rolled in.
Karen and I were so pumped full of endorphins when we arrived our beady eyes and huge smiles made us look like we snorted several lines of cocaine. After a few warm showers we made our way out to a welcome party like no other with Freek, his lovely girlfriend Fiona, several new friends and even special guests that included my friend Therese who I met in Mali and my donor of my apartment and Karen’s good friend and neighbor Sanne from Utrecht, Holland! Yep, it was a good night to be alive indeed!
The party was all about great food, friendly people, lovely wines, big smiles, buzzing conversation and a positive energy that dripped out of Freek’s apartment into the street. An unforgettable day of cycling and what a kickoff to a great Friday evening in Brussels! After a spectacular dinner and plenty of adult beverages the crew hit the town for a long evening of dancing, laughing, chatting, more dancing and more celebrating. Everyone was having such a great time and before we knew it we were back at Freek’s place at 5AM wondering how the hell we had enough energy to ride 120km and still dance until 5AM! But we did it, and boy was it a blast!
Freek and Fiona had brunch ready at about noon to fuel us up for a splendid first day for us in Brussels, but the last day in the presence of my favorite Dutch Princess Karen. The sun was shining bright, the weather warm and pleasant, and we proceeded to hit the town to celebrate all the blessings we clearly had. We walked through the charming streets around Freek’s neighborhood including an “African Zone” where literally we felt like we were back in Africa again with hair salons, simple card table pubs with African guys drinking 750ml bottles of lager beer, music shops selling cassette tapes of African music and the works.
From there it was off to explore the best of Brussels on this sunny day including the famous mussels in wine sauce. We found THE PLACE to eat mussels outside, cooked by a genius of a chef with a secret sauce that makes you want to literally lick the plate. They were served in a white wine and garlic sauce, red and green peppers, onions and wow—you have to go to this place if you go to Brussels. Karen hates seafood and even gave one a try and is now a convert. She ate three of them!
After the best mussels on earth and the best beer on earth, it was time to dive into the chocolate. We meandered along the charming streets of Brussels with architecture that literally blows your mind until we found a few chocolate shops to begin our next indulgence. Yes, Belgian chocolates are as good as they say they are, especially when consumed with great people.
My favorite part of my day in Brussels was when Freek made me close my eyes as he walked me into the central square of Brussels. At the same time there was a live concert going on so the music got louder and louder until he invited me to open my eyes and see the most beautiful market square I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun was setting and casting the perfect light on all the buildings, live music, great people, positive vibes…another good day to be alive!
My last moments with my Dutch Princess before she had to head home were shared with Sanne, Freek and Fiona. We spent the last moments together in the setting sun, sipping Belgium’s famous beers and, as if it could not get any better, Karen and Sanne came back with the most yummy Belgian Waffles ever. I never imagined they would taste so good. A waffle is a waffle, no? No. They are amazing and we sat there eating chocolate, waffles, fine beer while cracking jokes, laughing, chatting away and sucking the last moments with a very special friend and the first moments with my new friends Freek, Fiona and Sanne. Life was good.
The time did finally come where Karen had to make her way to the train. Neither of us are good at goodbyes so it was just a quick hug goodbye. But I’ll never forget all the nice things Karen did for me to make my stay in Holland so special, even the times that dripped over from Holland into Belgium. I’m happy to say we are still in touch and I’m hoping you get a chance to meet her as she’s spectacular woman!
I want to thank everyone who helped make my time in Holland so special. Big thanks to Sanne 1 and Sanne 2 for all your time, generosity and patience with my sometimes unacceptable behavior. Daan, I’ll never forget our times together and know we have more adventures ahead of us. Vincent, we gotta ride again—thanks for pimpin’ me out in such a huge way. Ingeborg, it was a grand pleasure—keep that positive and fun you rockin the world!
If you want an unforgettable cycling experience and the opportunity to meet some really amazing people, do head to Holland! You won’t regret it!
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