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Trip Report 3 Mini Vacations in The Netherlands

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Of late there have been queries about "day trips outside Amsterdam" on the NL forum. And that's wonderful, because there's so much to see and do outside of Amsterdam. And almost all of it can be reached by taking a train, with most journey times between 1 and 2 hours from Amsterdam. Haarlem has been visited, many people go to Den Bosch for the big Bosch exhibition. I see Kröller - Müller a lot. All great. Here are three mini-vacations of my own. One pretty extreme, the other two sedate, cultural affairs.

1. Crossing the big rivers by bike, from Rotterdam to Den Bosch.

I do a lot of Audax cycling (really long distances with time checks) and I'm in training for a couple of big rides, the first a 200km in Belgium. I do many short training rides near my home, but on weekends, I have time for big rides. This one was from Rotterdam to Den Bosch.

I chose a route past Dordrecht, Sliedrecht/Hardinxveld, crossing the river Merwede to get to Werkendam, crossing the "land of Heusden and Altena" to get to wonderfully preserved Heusden and so, along the Meuse to Den Bosch. Side trips could have been Loevenstein Castle, Woudrichem and Gorinchem.

I cycled to Dordrecht by way of the Kinderdijk mills. This often is part of my training round, also because there is a convenient coffee stop in the little kiosk where they sell souvenirs. This time too I stopped for coffee, meeting a Canadian school band on an exchange with a school in Groningen. So weird to hear their hosts speak the Groningen dialect that my grandmother spoke, oddly comforting too. After a brief stop, I cycled on past the mills, impressive in the morning sun. To think that this is the peak of 17th century hydraulic engineering is humbling, especially if you consider that the entire system is functional to this day.

Onwards, across the bridge that spans the Noord river and on to Dordrecht.

Dordrecht, oldest city of the province of Zuid Holland, and founding city of the Dutch Republic, fountainhead of Dutch Calvinism. And also, the place where modern Dutch was born, by means of the official Dutch translation of the Bible, the "States Translation" (Statenvertaling). It's a beautiful city, but also strangely frozen in time, somewhat of a provincial backwater. The river is never far away here. On the way to Dordrecht I cycled past huge shipyards, lots of busy doings on the river banks.

I crossed the river to Papendrecht by ferry, and then suddenly found myself on my old cycle route to school. I lived in Sliedrecht, and cycled to school in Papendrecht every day, on the river dike, which, at that time, was the main access route for Sliedrecht, with many heavy lorries making cycling there somewhat nerve wracking. Still following the river, I cycle through Sliedrecht, on to Hardinxveld. Familiar territory for me. Just before Hardinnxveld a landmark: Sliedrecht's minute synagogue. Not in use for services anymore, but handsomely restored and used for cultural events. "I go to the house of the Lord with joy" the Hebrew above the door reads.

But it's cold and I press on to the Werkendam ferry. Dutch rivers are slow and wide. Looking east I see the city of Gorinchem. Beyond that, I can just make out the big tower of Castle Loevenstein. This is where the rivers Meuse and Waal converge and this has always been a strategic location, hence the castle, that, during the Dutch revolt, was used by the Spanish forces to hold (political) prisoners. Such as famous legal scholar Hugo de Groot, who escaped from there in a chest of books.

This is where there would be excellent side trips to be had, not by bike, because the small ferries that criss cross the river here get you to Gorinchem to Hardinxveld and Werkendam, but also to Woudrichem and Loevenstein. Gorinchem is another one of those 17th century towns, since then frozen in time, and is - like Dordrecht - very well preserved. But, Den Bosch is my goal and I must go on after a brief stop to refuel and I cycle across the Land of Heusden and Altena to Heusden.

Heusden shatters me with its cobbles. Heusden is a fortified town, and these fortifications are completely intact, so you can walk the city walls and the ramparts. Within these walls, Heusden is gorgeous, with its main street attractive with cafes and interesting shops. Quite a bustling town too and a destination from Den Bosch for many people. But not overrun with people either. I decide to have tea here and I get a little bit too comfortable, taking my time.

25 km from Den Bosch and now I am led along the river's south bank on a beautiful path, all the way to Den Bosch. It's cold and grey, yet spring is around the corner, that's obvious. Lapwings busy themselves trying to trick me with their antics, everywhere the land is freshly plowed. This is where the Dutch landscape really is, with a silvery quality to the light, due to the river's large reflective surface.

Pushed along by the freshening wind I speed along the Zuid Willemskanaal to Den Bosch, and navigate its superior cycle ways to the Central Station. I can't get on a train just yet with my bike, because that's only allowed after the afternoon rush hour and so I decide to cycle into town and have dinner first.

Cycled: 90 km in 6 hours, with ample stops and ferry trips.

From Den Bosch, Heusden would be an interesting visit. As would Woudrichem and Loevenstein be from Gorinchem. And Kinderdijk and Dordrecht are a good combination if you take the waterbus from Rotterdam.

Next up: a morning in Delft.

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