street is busy with cyclists and pedestrians.
is a Cycling Paradise Travel
with your back to the wind and carry Donald Telfer's tips in your
When Ann Heide and Paul Tobin arrived in Amsterdam with their crated
bicycles, they were well prepared for a leisurely tour through Holland
and Belgium. They had their backs to the wind.
"That's about the only concern a cyclist has," said Heide, an Ottawa,
Ontario schoolteacher and author. "The wind from the North Sea is
a real advantage going south but it can be a big handicap traveling
north. We met fellow Canadians cycling north who were aggravated
and exhausted pedaling into the wind."
Holland is a cyclist's paradise. With a 16,000 km/10,000-mile network
of dedicated bike paths, there are dozens of beautiful routes laid
out through varied landscapes.
The Ottawa couple took the North Sea Route that follows the Dutch
and Belgian coast for 360 km/220 miles to the French border. Sheltered
by sand dunes, the road is one of the National Cycling trails (LF
in Dutch) that connect with cycling routes and ferry connections
in neighboring countries. Compiled by the National Cycling Platform
Foundation, a national network of roads and bike paths has been
established with the beauty and surroundings in mind that bring
in the sea, sand dunes, flower fields, extensive farms and forests,
and the largest greenhouse in Europe.
Good bike routes are only as good as the maps, signs and traffic
lights. There are special cycling tour maps available at VVV (tourist
information) and ANWB (AAA) offices. Holland has blue signs with
white lettering that indicate the way for all types of traffic.
Cyclists have separate symbols: long, white signs with red lettering
indicate the distance to a destination. "Mushrooms" close to the
ground also outline necessary information. Obligatory bicycle paths
are indicated by round blue signs with a white bicycle.
Along the North Sea Route visitors may come across hotels, restaurants
and shops that are only accessible on two wheels.
"The distance between interesting, ancient and famous towns and
cities in Holland and Belgium is surprisingly short," said Tobin,
a noted Ottawa architect and pianist. "And together with the fact
that the terrain is flat makes for an absolutely perfect place for
a bike tour."
|Cyclists enjoy the magnificent
Castle de Haar
Visitors can design their own routes or purchase a package tour.
Package tours are especially popular: accommodations reserved in
comfortable hotels, meals in recommended restaurants, packed lunches
for the road, and tips on points of interest. Even the luggage is
looked after, brought by car from hotel to hotel along the route.
With paniers strapped to the bicycles, the Ottawa couple's first
stop was Haarlem, a wonderful old city with a museum dedicated to
painter Frans Hals, and a grand old cathedral dating from the 1220s.
The nearby town of Zandvoort is a splendid coastal resort. Just
north on the coast is the town of Bloomendaal, noted for its gracious
Continuing south to The Hague, the couple were impressed with the
city's 700-odd parks, the fine old buildings and the world-famous
17th century Mauritshuis Museum. The working palace of Queen Beatrix
has been turned into an outstanding art museum with many Dutch Old
Masters displayed in magnificent royal rooms.
Nearby is the glorious old town of Delft. "We were stunned by the
beauty of this old, canalled town," Tobin said. "The charm and character
of Delft is wonderful, a highlight of the trip."
Continuing farther south, the cycling couple visited the city of
Rotterdam, the city devastated by surprise bombing in 1940. "Everything,
save for a few small buildings, is new and the modern architecture
is quite good." Tobin said. "Rotterdam is a very different Dutch
Instead of cycling along the coast, the Ottawa couple took a train
to the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. Visitors feel like they've
stepped back in time here, for nowhere is there a city like Bruges,
a vast beautifully preserved open-air museum less than ten miles
from the sea.
From Bruges, the couple cycled to the sister medieval city of Ghent.
Once the biggest city north of Paris, Ghent also has many interesting
period buildings. A highlight of a visit is an evening canal cruise.
The monuments of medieval architecture are magnificent in daylight
but when the sun goes down they take on a new life, brightly illuminated
to emphasize their majesty.
"The only trouble we encountered were two flat tires, both Ann's,
and both around Ghent on cobblestone roads," Tobin said. "Not bad
for an 18-day trip."
is a cyclist's heaven with thousands
of kilometres of specially marked roads.
The Ottawa couple and Netherlands Board of Tourism offer the following
recommendations and information for cycling in Holland and Belgium.
* It's a good idea when crossing the Atlantic to partially disassemble
the bike. Crate it either in a cardboard box purchased at a bike
store, or in a heavy-guage plastic bike bag. This is considered
* Keep to the marked bicycle paths: the cobblestone roads are hard
* There are some 12 million bikes in this country of 15 million.
Bike sales total about 1.3 million a year. The Mountain and City
bikes make up about 25 per cent of total sales.
* Cycling package tours are available at VVV offices throughout
* Bicycles may be rented at over 200 locations throughout the
country. Most train stations provide bike rentals for a few hours
or several days. Bikes must be returned to the original rental point.
* Transporting bikes on trains is only permitted on workdays after
and before morning and evening rush hours. You may transport your
bicycle any time during July and August.
* Netherlands Board of Tourism has extensive literature available
on cycling, including information on agencies and organizations
providing accommodations, rentals and rules of the road.
* Plan to travel in a southerly direction so the North Sea wind
is at your back.
If You Go To The Netherlands
POPULATION: About 15 million, of whom about 700,000 live in Amsterdam,
the capital, and 450,000 in The Hague, the seat of government and
the home of Queen Beatrix. About six million a year visit Holland,
including 100,000 from Canada and 500,000 from the U.S.
LOCATION: The Netherlands border Denmark, Germany, Belgium and
the North Sea.
GETTING THERE: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is served by KLM/Northwest
from several cities in Canada and the U.S.
DOCUMENTS: Valid passport required for a visit up to three months.
WHAT TO WEAR: The Netherlands is on the North Sea so weather varies,
often by the hour. Because rain is common, bring a raincoat and
CURRENCY: Dutch guilder. Major credit cards are widely accepted.
ATMs are widely available.
LANGUAGE: Dutch is the official language, though English is spoken
and understood throughout the country.
TIME DIFFERENCE: The Netherlands is one hour ahead of London, six
hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and nine hours ahead of Pacific
ACCOMMODATIONS: There are a variety of hotels, hostels and motels
in every price class. For spring and summer months, Netherlands
Board of Tourism recommends that reservations be made as far in
advance as possible. Call the Netherlands Reservation Center (NRC)
by phone, fax or letter for individual and group bookings for hotels,
apartments, hikers' cabins and bungalows, and for theatre tickets.
Contact NRC, PO Box 404, 2260 Leidschendam, Holland
Phone: 011-31 (070) 317-5454, Fax 011-31 (070) 320-2611.
RESTAURANTS: There are some 250 restaurants that offer Tourist
Menus, a three-course meal for about C$25/US$18. Participating restaurants
display a blue plaque with a white fork on the front door.
TRANSPORTATION: Taxi service is good and reliable, though it tends
to be expensive (Schiphol Airport to city center is about US$50).
Trains run every 15 minutes between Schiphol and Amsterdam's Central
Station. There are also shuttle buses operating between several
airport hotels. Amsterdam has an excellent network of trams and
buses. Bicycle rentals are widely available at train stations and
other locations. There are some 15,000 km/9,000 miles of cycle paths
in the Netherlands.
SCHIPHOL AIRPORT: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is regarded as No.
2 airport in the world, after Singapore Changi. Schiphol's gates
and services are well marked. The airport has a number of features
including a terminal hotel, golf center, business center, and a
TULIP SEASON: Tulips begin to bloom in late March and continue
For US: Phone: 312-819-0300. Fax: 312-819-1740.
For Canada: Phone: 1-888-Go-Holland