Bikes, Trains, and Quality Time with Eva

Over the past week, Eva and I have loved biking in the Netherlands. As you’ll see in our map below, we began in Amsterdam, rode west to Haarlem, zoomed down the North Sea trail, then headed inland to explore rural farming areas, small towns, and the major cities of Utrecht and Zwolle. Overall we’ve enjoyed relatively good weather, with only a couple of hours of scattered rain showers, and one day of biking into 10-15 mph headwinds from the north. In our first week we rode about 375 km (230 miles).

We’re smiling because we rode through scattered light showers only one morning during our first week. Could have done worse.

On the second day of our trip, while sitting in a vegetarian cafe in Utrecht, Eva and I decided to lower our expectations for distance and increase our enjoyment of our journey together. When I originally plotted out the route from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, I was intrigued by the concept of biking the entire route over two weeks at roughly 100 km (62 miles) per day. But we decided that pace was too ambitious for us, and we reduced our goal to 60-75km (35-50 miles) per day. The purpose of our trip is to enjoy our time biking together, not to win an imaginary race. We also decided to re-route our trip a bit to spend the full week riding in the Netherlands (with better weather and bike paths) and to skip over the northern Netherlands and most of Germany (where the weather was worse, and the German bike paths were less certain). Below is our updated route (see our train from Zwolle to Lübeck in green), which you can open in a full-size interactive map. While it shortens our original and overly ambitious bike route, it definitely enhances the time that Eva and I spend together on bikes without stressing over the distance we need to cover to get to Copenhagen.

One highlight of our travels in the Netherlands included staying at nature camp sites, a network of hosts that welcome bicycles, hikers, tents, and small camper vans, and that value lowering our ecological footprint on the earth. Our favorite was Den Ouden Dam, a family-run farm and nature camp located about 40 km east of Utrecht, where Eva fell in love with the goats, chickens, and cats—precisely why we bike here!

Eva’s new Dutch BFFs include cats, chickens, and goats.

At all three campsites, the quality of the facilities really impressed me. All had clean toilets, hot showers, a sink for washing dishes, and at one location, a solar-powered generator to recharge your electric devices. Given how so many under-resourced US campsites have disappointed me over the decades, especially in state parks, perhaps we could learn some lessons from how the Dutch do camping.

Nature camp sinks, showers, and solar power generators.

At our campsites we also struck up conversations with several interesting people who genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with us. We met Boris (whose family and friends went camping to celebrate their teenager’s birthday), who shared his European bike trail knowledge and kindly helped us fix Eva’s front derailleur. Vicky, who owns Buitenplatts Molenwei, which isn’t officially in the nature camp network but is very similar, gave us an extended tour of the farm that she and her brother inherited from their father. Eric, whose father-in-law owns Den Ouden Dam, traded stories with us about traveling in the Southern US and the Netherlands, and also kindly brought us pears to add to our oatmeal breakfast. Teresa (who stayed in a nearby tent) offered helpful advice about our route to Zwolle to catch the train east. Richard, who stayed in a nearby tent at the De Altena nature camp site, described how he takes 3-day-long hikes to get away from work. The time we spent talking with these kind people (in English) and also laughing with them (sounds the same in any language?) taught us a bit about how at least one small sample of Dutch people view their world.

Three kind people we met in the Netherlands: Boris, Eric, and Richard.

When scheduling our two-week adventure from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, the intercity train system was always part of our backup plan in case we ran out of time. Today we put that plan into action in order to make more quality time together. Eva and I (with our bikes and bags) boarded an 8 AM train in Zowelle, Netherlands, then changed trains in the German cities of Osnabrück and Hamburg to arrive in Lübeck around 2 PM. (I mistakenly added another unplanned connection when we prematurely departed the train in suburban Hamburg and had to jump onto a local train to go one stop further to Hamburg’s main station!) While taking a bike onboard most German trains usually requires an online purchase of a bike ticket to reserve space, we discovered a day ahead of time that traveling with our bikes across the Netherlands-German international border required making a phone call to reserve our space, and we had to take an earlier morning train. Many thanks to my German friend Kristen Nawrotzki who patiently spent a total of two hours on Zoom with me on Saturday to diagnose the problem and figure out a solution.