The Netherlands differs from the other countries for the ones touring with bicycle. The reason is quite simple. You would listen from everybody who traveled through or lived in Europe about the Dutch bicycle roads and their bicycle culture. At the end we have passed the border and entered Holland. Let’s see which rank would this country get among the other countries known for their bicycle culture I have travelled through so far (China, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France)?
Melih Akdogan is accompanying me. We also cycle together in this country. His destination is Amsterdam, afterwards he will return to Turkey to continue to his education and professional life. We enter Holland on 4th of October while Melih has to leave the country October 8th. Therefore we have to travel within a plan time frame. Our target is Utrecht.
Before leaving Belgium we started to cycle along the road next to a canal and this continued throughout my whole Holland visit. The canals divide the crop fields, forests, private fields, every single piece of land. This causes a big problem for us wild camping travelers. It is really very hard to find a suitable camping area in this country. No matter, I would and did find every time a suitable place for camping.
At the city center we first looked for cyclists and a place to eat. It is really difficult to find a region where there isn’t any bicycle roads throughout this country but I remember Melih grumbling behind me “Abi (elderly brother in Turkish) I never would have thought that I would cycle in such a region in Holland” Well, I usually don’t follow a common route. I had seen bicycle roads in many countries and Holland was one of them. But, a detail caught my eye while I was pedaling in the city. The bicycle road was temporarily closed due to construction work in a building next to the road. The municipality immediately set up a bicycle lane next to the barricade. Bravo! I didn’t see any “forbidden sign” for cyclists on the main streets with pedestrian crowds but people try to avoid to cycle on those streets although there are some.
As we were pedaling towards north trivial issues caught our eyes in small cities we cycled through. For example, you cannot use credit cards of foreign banks outside touristic sites. My Visa and Master cards were not accepted in many towns. In some towns Maestro Money Cards are accepted but not that of Visa, only Maestro. Therefore, if you want to travel outside touristic cities you have to carry cash.
They are quite surefooted on bicycle roads and road marking issues. : ). I recognized that I had to pay more attention at the junctions in Holland. I was almost hit by cars twice! The same happened in several towns and villages as I was cycling from south towards north. Normally, the drivers stop and let me pass as they recognized me at a junction which unfortunately was not the case in the Netherlands. I had to wait till there were no cars passing by to cross a street. Well, you get familiar with this situation when you pedal in cities. Dude, that situation in the city was really very funny. The main street was single lane traffic. The left and right hand sides of the road were reserved for cyclists. Two cars could not pass side by side. If there is a cyclist in front you have to wait. Either the cyclist has to stop aside or turn another direction. If not and continues to pedal then you have to drive behind the cyclist for many minutes : ). The drivers may revolt againstthis hehehe. The drivers therefore, revenge themselves on me on the cross country roads, I guess. : ). DUDE THIS ROAD IS MINE.
I shared such a picture before when I was in Stockholm. You can see people riding on horses on the bicycle roads in small towns in Holland. A quite nice scene, especially in towns where there are many people riding on horses. I really admire very much this horse breeding and riding issue in European countries. I like these animals. I only I would have some knowledge about horse care, would know I would find a shelter in cities, I would like to travel riding on a horse. Do you know the photography artist Arif Asci? He traveled with his team from Turkey to China between the years 1996-97. The name of their story was “The Last Caravan”. I read his book before I set off for Japan. It was an amazing adventure book and a photo album. By the way the reason why they called their story as “The Last Caravan” was because they rode on camels till China. There are people traveling around the world on horses, camels, donkeys, bicycle, by walking, with cars, jeeps, trucks, motorcycles, planes, balloons, yachts, catamarans, boots, travelling with children (even giving birth to three children on the road). There are hundreds of road memories in books and internet. If you are interested in, you would find the stories.
We camped twice with Melih till we arrived in Utrecht. Our first camping place was next to a corn field. We were camping far from the main street and nobody saw us entering this place. It is difficult to hide with two tents. We erected our tents and while we were preparing our meal a police patrol came next to us. It was forbidden to camp in this area of course. While studying my world tour route, this camping issue in Holland caught my attention. This country is among the top in the list of countries with poorest camping opportunities. The thing I couldn’t cope with was how could the police recognize us? They allowed us to stay after telling them we had a long way behind us and only wished to overnight. After they left, I was still thinking how they could recognize us? How did they see that we were camping here, really very strange? I was still thinking about this issue while I was having breakfast the next morning. Then all of a sudden it came in my mind. Yesterday while we were erecting our tent a helicopter had passed over twice. Most probably they saw and announced us. Actually, I was not sure but there was no other probability also. But I then became sure about this in the next days. Helicopters had been patrolling frequently in Holland. The reason was narcotics smuggle. Besides open fields, even the temperature in building had been also measured using thermal cameras. The use of narcotics is free to some extent. But there are people not satisfied with this and producing narcotics in their homes. The solution is helicopter patrolling. Another day it got dark just before we found a suitable camping place. As I mentioned before, it is really very hard to find a place to hide the tents since every single land was divided by canals. My plan was to pedal till it got dark afterwards we would just enter a crop field and camp anyway. Meanwhile, Melih took his chance and asked a family for permission to camp on their field. I was not surprised when they refused us. Dutch people do not like to take risk. They prefer a life without risks within their regulations and rules. Even in issues they seem to take risk a pre-research has been conducted for sure. For the second camping place I tried to choose side roads as possible. I found a forest zone but since it was surrounded by canals it was difficult to find an entrance. While I was having a look on the map on GPS, Melih saw a space among the locked gates. Since I was looking at the map I missed that entrance. This is one of the advantages not being alone. If you miss, your friend would catch. We erected our tents next to the trees so that nobody would see us crossing the street. When someone passed by, we bended and waited in silence. If people would recognized us they would announced us to the police.
The next day, after only a short ride we arrived in Utrecht. Asli Unlusoy from Ankara will host us. Then, Melih after staying for two more days will go to Amsterdam and depart for Turkey. This was his first international tour. I’m sure he will continue touring in the future.
Asli sent a message before I set off for my tour around the world: “I’m waiting for you in Holland” which I replied as: “I’m coming.” At that time she was living alone, now she is sharing a flat with her boyfriend Hans. She has been living for six years in this city conducting her PhD studies in Utrecht University. She is planning to complete her thesis in the first month of 2014 which is about immigrants in Holland. Anyway, I’ll mention about this issue later. Asli’s apartment will be my first stopover during this world tour. I say stopover, because I have my own room and limitless lodging permission. : ) Asli understands my situation very well. She didn’t make any program. She and Hans continued with their normal life. She gave me the keys of her apartment and further a card for free entrance into museums. She showed what is where in her home and left me alone. This is actually what I’m longing for when I’m hosted. I already travel a lot and live in a tent. If I stay in a house, this is because I want to stay at home. Not for browsing around. Every city has a museum and there are spots worth for sightseeing. I cannot effort to visit all of them neither physically nor materially. Therefore I need such stopovers. Furthermore, I need some spare time for my homepage.
Let me start with Utrecht. I also visited Amsterdam, Delft, Harley, Den Haag, Alkmaar and Rotterdam in Holland. But, Utrecht was the most charming city I saw in this country. Even, it is among the top five beautiful cities I have visited yet. Every city throughout Holland is webbed with canals. But, along these canals it is difficult to find a pedestrian way devoid of restaurants or vehicles. There is no need to mention about bicycle roads. Every single spot is occupied by bicycles. Even, I saw such a practice in this city: The bicycles parked outside bicycle parking areas are removed. First a notice is left on the bicycle staying longer than a certain period. If the notice remains untouched for a week, then the lock is broken up and the bicycle is removed. I stopped next to the officer and asked why they collected the bicycles. “Bicycle parking area is over there. We just collect the ones parked outside this area”. He mentioned the name of the place but I have forgotten. If you want to take your bicycle from there you have to pay a fine of 35 Euro. He looked at my bicycle and said:
– You do not leave your bicycle outside, aren’t you?
– You have a Son dynamo. It can be stolen, be careful
– All right.
A different allen key is needed for the wheel where the dynamo is attached. A special made one. Unless the thief doesn’t have that allen key he has to cut the spokes or steel the whole bicycle. I leave my bicycle alone not more than five minutes. If it is to be stolen, then during this period. But if I catch the thief, I’ll beat the hell out of him. This is a further detail. : )
Utrecht is cheaper compared to the other cities. An overnight stay at a hostel costs 15 € and doner ayran (Turkish drink made with yoghurt and water) 4€. You may find free wi-fi in every café. Some museums are free, some cost only about 8-15 €. The reason why this city is cheaper than the other cities is the Utrecht University. Although its campus is outside the city it is easily accessible with bicycle. Asli cycles everyday to the University. Furthermore, some faculties of the University are situated downtown, in the so called old city. One day I went to the University with Asli, the road view was amazing. The idyllic road passed through forests and parks which make you feel peaceful. The same happens also at the evening when you return home. Asli shows me the sheep and cow herds: “Gurkan, those all belong to the University” : ). The fields surrounding the faculty were reserved for these sheep and cows. Utrecht University’s faculty of veterinary medicine is the only veterinary faculty in the Netherlands. To study in this faculty, very high school grades are required. Among the hundreds of applicants with highest grades selection is done by voting. The brother of Hans is studying in this faculty. Three categories of animals are studied in this faculty: Farm animals, pets and wild animals. I do understand that farm animals are studied since this country is famous for that. The same is also true for pets. By the way I didn’t see any dogs, cats or any animals living on the streets for a long time! But, what about wild life? Is there any wild life in this country?
I watched a documentary film while I was in Holland together with Hans and Asli. While I was watching this documentary for the first time, I thought I was watching wild life in the US or Canada. I didn’t understand what they were talking about since it was in Dutch. But as Asli said: “Gurkan, this is in Holland”, my reply was: “Dude, how come?” Dude, Holland is such a small country, is there enough space for wild life? There is an artificial island at east Holland where a natural environment for wild life is established. The largest wild horse herd of Europe is here, the largest bird colony is here, and so many other things, dude. This was one of the most amazing documentaries I have ever watched. I was impressed from the movie shooting.
Furthermore, the meat and milk of these animals are processed and sold. Several researches are conducted on these animals also. For example, Asli saw a cow with prosthetic leg grazing on the field last summer.
Utrecht University established in 17th century is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Asli takes me to the hall where she will defend her thesis. On the wall are portraits of the professors who defended their theses. While I was taking some photos and talking, the cleanser came next to me introducing himself as a Turk. We chat for a while with him.
In this hall the rituals dating back to 17th century are still conducted. An example: At that time PhD theses had been defended in front of public audience and in order to protect the candidate from the audience guards were standing next to him/her. Well, this is not the case anymore, but the guards are still there. You can ask a close friend to stand next to you. This loyalty is really impressive. They succeeded in preserving their traditions for centuries.
Every first Monday in this country, air raid sirens sound. Do not panic if you happen to come across. In this way they both recall the people died during World War II and test the sirens in case of emergency. But if a real war breaks out on Monday they would probably mess up and nobody would take the sirens for serious. The same happens also in Belgium.
Watching the colorful life in Utrecht, I asked myself how easy the Dutch people are.
Gay and lesbian marriages are allowed. Nobody cares about women acting like men or men acting like women on streets. Married couples can change their surnames if they want. Husband takes his wife’s surname or vice versa. You can live together for 40 years and then get married. Living together for three years give the couples the right to share out the house and interior when separated. Wealthy lesbian or gay pairs can adopt orphans. Even, a Turkish child was taken from his family subjected to violence and given to a lesbian pair. I beg our prime minister had said “this is not acceptable according to our customs”, but had received the answer: “this here is Holland.”
Sexuality education is given in the Netherlands. A comprehensive sexuality education including venereal diseases, foreplay, sex, safe sex, anatomy knowledge is given in schools. Children at the ages of 12-13 learn how to use a condom using a banana (don’t say whoa. Better now than learning at the age of 18. This is not a taboo issue!!!). There are some readers who warn me that it will be understood wrong when I mention that I carry condom in my bicycle panniers.
When you are pregnant and want to get a 3D ultrasonic display. This is a very difficult issue in Holland. During pregnancy midwifes take care of you, you won’t be able to visit a doctor. Even, you cannot give birth to your child in hospital unless there is a health threatening situation. If you are healthy a midwife comes to your home and your child is born at home. : )
Why do cyclists not wear helmet in this country with such high bicycle usage rate? Their reply would be as: “Everybody is aware of bicycle culture therefore we don’t use helmets”. There are Dutch people thinking that helmet looks funny.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. The diplomatic capital is Den Haag where embassies, the parliament and many other institutions and NGO’s are found. I learned a saying: “Rotterdam earns, Den Haag administers and Amsterdam eats”
While I headquartered in Utrecht, I went to visit Nevin Abla (elderly sister in Turkish) and Peter living in the south. She was following me since my Japan tour. I promised to visit her and I kept my word. We had a nice conversation with Nevin Abla and Peter which I appreciated a lot. I thank them for shedding light on my road. I swear going from one house to the other I gain weight. Dude, I’m getting fat as a pig… God bless everybody’s hands who cooked those nice meals for me. : ).
The relation of Dutch pairs starts at high school. The Dutch women are pretty and tall. And all have a beautiful nose. Actually, this is not restricted to women only. Dude, at the beginning I thought that they were obsessed with cosmetic surgery. But then I recognized that all Dutch people had beautiful noses and being a Black Sea man my nose makes a difference for sure.
Utrecht is a wonderful city, I liked it very much.
To be continued…