European Tour 2009 III - Germany Holland
EUROPEAN TOUR 2009 PART III - Germany, Holland,
Koblenz to Hoek von Holland
June 16 to June 24, 2009
Start 54,095 miles (86,552 km) cumulative:
End 54,467 miles (87,147 km) cumulative
Koblenz to Köln
June 16 - 17
The further north along the Rhine you go the flatter and more industrial it gets. This is Germany's main manufacturing region and most populated as well.
The first day's ride out of Koblenz remains fairly pretty. The river is still bordered by low rolling hills with attractive villages on its banks.
By the time you pass Bonn you are now in the middle of the industrial belt. In places the bike route snakes its way right through the middle of major manufacturing complexes. In other places the route itself is in a park or woods, but big factories line the opposite river bank.
But industry isn't the only thing you see. There are still a lot of nice small towns for you to wend your way through. So it isn't just one long urban stretch.
About the only thing that attracted our attention as far as sites goes was the huge cathedral in the city of Köln. Köln was nearly completely wiped out in W.W. II. One of the few original buildings left standing was the cathedral. This was not by accident or divine grace. Bomber pilots used its twin towers as a navigation aid. So fortunately for Köln, their mammoth church still stands.
Built in the French gothic style, the Köln cathedral is one of those buildings that leaves you staring open mouthed. It was actually begun in the 1200s and not finished until the 1800s, some 660 years. Although like so many of the European churches, it probably had an almost organic construction. Additional parts and features are added in styles popular at that time or at the whim of the benefactor. The idea of using a plan from the start just didn't exist. Everything was done solely on the experience of the builders. Naturally, once the building was "completed" they probably had to immediately start the renovation, a process that still continues.
French gothic is easy to distinguish from other forms. It takes the concept of working with stone to new plateaus. The lines of the building are vertical taking your eyes higher and higher. The twin towers are constructed of stone so artfully carved they look almost lacey. Each tower is covered with those typical French gothic style knobs. They look as though someone took a gigantic paring knife to the original cones and cut down in short strokes leaving small stone curlicues behind. In reality, each knob usually is some sort of gargoyle face, each unique.
Inside is where the true purpose of Gothic architecture is seen. This massive building is designed so that its weight is carried by the huge pillars both in the naves and the side walls. This allows for the wall sections between each pillar to be as thin as possible. Or as in this case to not exist at all. Instead stained glass windows are put in place bringing in a colored and filtered version of daylight.
Many of Köln cathedral's stained glass windows are original. They each tell a story from the bible, a teaching tool for a predominantly illiterate populace. These always are the most beautiful. Newer windows, probably replacing those destroyed in the war, tend to have just geometric patterns. We wonder if there are even any craftsmen around who could make a window like the old ones.
Köln to Millingen aan de Rijn
June 18 - 20
Dusseldorf was the next and last big city in Germany. It has a long, wide pleasant riverfront walk that made it extremely easy to pass through. One small section, perhaps .5 km, is literally jammed with sidewalk cafes in summer. This is definitely the place for summer meals.
Beyond Dusseldorf we passed through just simple, rather ordinary looking farm towns. There was nothing to entice the tourist, with the possible exception of an odd place called Wunderland in Kalkar.
This has to be the oddest amusement park we've ever seen. They took what appears to be a former nuclear power plant, gutted the interior, and installed rides. There's a hotel housed within the old administration buildings. There's some sort of flying ride installed right within the old reactor tower which has been given an amusing paint job. This is truly one unusual entertainment venue. Just think, you send the kids off for the day and they come back glowing, literally.
Just a couple easy days got us to the Netherlands border town called Millingen aan de Rijn.
We saw another most unusual site along the way. Looking across the fields toward a second road we saw what appeared to be a large group of people gliding along. Upon closer examination we found a strange cycle contraption designed for 6 people. One person in back steered with a car style steering wheel. The remaining 5 people sat in a circle facing each other. They sat up high and each pedaled like crazy to make it move. The whole group of laughing, partying people would glide down the road at a reasonable clip on 4 or 5 fat wheelbarrow wheels. With beers held in the center of the circle it was one odd moving party. We've never seen anything like it before and probably never will again.
Millingen aan de Rijn to Hoek von Holland
June 19 - 24
Despite years of no border controls, it's still very easy to distinguish the actual border. Within the town of Millingen aan de Rijn there is a row of houses backed right up to the border. Also, there really is a noticeable difference in the houses. Dutch houses appear to be much smaller. Also they are made almost exclusively from red brick. There's no stucco here. But just like the Germans, the gardens seem to be the homeowner's show piece. They do a wonderful job and obviously have the perfect weather for beautiful flowers.
The other thing we found was that even this very small town had a grocery store that would put most German stores to shame. We have to admit we haven't been to impressed with German stores, especially in the southern regions. They have mostly these discount type stores that are cheap but offer very limited selection. The few real grocery stores they do have are usually very small. Only in the northern regions did we start to feel like we were shopping in real, full size grocery stores.
The Netherlands was a whole different story. Here in this small town was one very nice store with lots of selection. Granted it's not as immense as the French Carrefour and L'Eclercs. But it was certainly very close.
Much of the Netherlands is land that should be under sea water. Some land has been created through the creation of their dikes and canal systems. Some has been reclaimed from rising waters through the same means. No matter what, the Netherlands is a land of water. No matter where you ride you will almost always find yourself following along some creek, canal, or river.
The low lands between the dikes are what they call "polders". In here they have farms, towns, factories. Often along the top of the dikes you'll find the roads, nearly all of which are bicycle routes or paths.
The Netherlands has to be the most bike prolific country we've ever visited. Bikes aboundand there's an entire network of bike routes, paths, and roads to go with it. The scene at any neighborhood train station with hundreds of parked bikes is really remarkable.
Holland is also very famous for its flower fields. In spring there are dafodiles and tulips. Later in summer there are other flowers fields upon fields full of them. Of course on bike traveling through the farms you just have to pass by a few flower fields here and there.
Canals are a major part of Dutch lifestyle. Along the canals you can find a plethora of pleasure boats. Some of these are those live aboard canal boats we saw back in 2006 on the Canal du Midi in France. There are tens of thousands of km of canals and rivers in the flat lands of Europe which you could easily spend a lifetime wandering in a canal boat. And many people do.
Many of these canal boats are old antiques that have been carefully restored to their former glory. They are former cargo craft that have since been replaced with the the ega size cargo barges we see today The owners clean out the former cargo holds and build what must be very comfy living quarters below deck. Certainly with all this new living space the current owners must have far more luxurious accommodations than the original owners.
These old boats are beautiful, charming, quaint, and nostalgic. However, since these are all made of wood planking and since they are all so old, they must surely require constant and expensive upkeep and maintenance. Nice to look at, but we'll stick to the idea of a fiberglass boat.
After a few days hard riding, we arrived at the town of Dordrecht early enough to have a nice look around. Dordrecht is located at the confluence of 2 rivers, one being the Wall (the name for the Rhine in Holland). It was always a major shipping port especially after getting the right to force all craft to store and ship through their city.
Dordrecht is the city where the various kingdoms of Holland came together to sign an agreement to form a nation. So historically it is the place where the Netherlands was born.
The town is quite attractive with numerous bays that look a lot like canals all filled with picturesque canal boats. We arrived with plenty of time left to take the walking tour. We wandered by old houses formerly used by the many traders, a few old churches, up and down the canals, and across a nice old wooden drawbridge.
From Dordrecht we took another of the numerous short ferry rides across the Wall river headed toward one of the most photographed sites in all Holland, the famous grouping of windmills.
Because much of the Netherlands should, by all rights, be under water, a lot of effort and work goes into keeping the country afloat. Before the age of the steam engine, this was done through the use of wind powered water pumps, those famous Holland windmills. Not only did these devices pump water but they cut wood, milled flower, ground artist paint, and did a whole plethora of other everyday chores. At one point the Netherlands had over 10,000 of these devices winding away the days.
Unfortunately with the invention of the steam engine, the windmills very nearly became an extinct contraption on the Dutch landscape. Fortunately, for cultural heritage reasons as well as tourism, the Netherlands government has recognized the value of those few remaining windmills. They currently keep just around 1,000 maintained and in working order. Even some that can still be renovated are being rebuilt back to working condition.
Of course, if you have a working windmill, that means you need someone to actually work it. Running a windmill is a skill that takes time to develop, 3 years in fact. You simply cannot just erect a bunch of sails and let it do its thing. You have to know exactly what sails to erect, how much sail to extend, and which direction to face them depending upon the wind conditions. If you don't do things just right and the windmill takes off, it can literally tear itself apart. On modern windmills this is done by feathering the vanes. Back then it was almost like running a sailing ship a lot of hard work.
As we rode our way across the Netherlands from one side to the other in this flat, flat country, we started coming across more and more of those lovingly restored windmills. Occasionally they were even working, the windmill operator living in the attached house decided to give a show for the day. But, the one place to really see the famous Dutch site is a place called Kinderdjik.
Located just to the east of Rotterdam, Kinderdjik is a place where there are still 18 operable windmills. They line 2 sides of a canal. On one side there are the round stone variety. On the other are square windmills. And just for good measure there are 2 of the original hollow post variety. The hollow post variety had a wooden windmill house mounted on top of a hollowed out post or tree. To change direction of the windmill they had to change the direction of the entire house.
One of the 18 windmills is a visitor center, costing 3.50€ to visit, and is usually up and running most days. The other 17 are put into operation of weekends in July and August, weather permitting. This is the only place where you can go to see this many of a once common site still.
The best way to see the windmills is by bike or foot. Biking was particularly pleasant as we were able to enter the area from the backside rather than the front where the majority of tourists enter. No matter how you enter, there still is plenty of opportunities to get one of those famous Dutch windmill photos.
From Kinderdijk it was just a short ride into and out of the city of Rotterdam. Although Rotterdam has lots of marked cycle routes, it's not quite as bike friendly as the other Holland towns we'd seen. There are just too many people in the central area. We kept having to dismount and walk just to avoid running into pedestrians. Of course it didn't help that some of our route was under construction at the time either.
The Rhine river route ends right at the Rotterdam train station at which point a section of the North Sea route picks up. So at least we did have recommended cycle routes to follow. Otherwise we would probably have taken the train out of the city. The train station is your usual busy and just slightly sketchy area. There were a lot of pan handlers about, some of which smelled suspiciously like weed. Netherlands does have a very tolerant attitude toward pot smoking which they claim keeps the problems with drug crime down. Yet with that statement we've never seen a country where even tourist brochures touting the great things about a place spends so much time talking about bike theft. Evidently the drug addicts will easily steal a bike and sell it on the street for just a few Euros in order to get their next fix. Some 2100 bikes are stolen every day and this is in a country that is smaller than New Hampshire. And they say they aren't having any problems with drug addicts.
We decided that the most prudent action was to just push right on through the city center and make for the suburbs where things appeared to be safer before finding a stop for lunch.
Then we hit the final few miles of the Rhine river bike path headed toward open sea. The river by this point is absolutely huge and boat traffic is at its highest. Rotterdam is one of the world's largest ports and there are even plans to expand it further.
Up in the distance, just before reaching Hoek van Holland and the North Sea we saw the most unusual contraption ahead. It was an enormous white truss structure with a twin structure on the opposite bank. It turns out this contraption is a huge water shield designed to close off this canal during storms. When the seas are too high the empty walls will act like pontoons and the whole structure floats. It is then rotated about an enormous pin on shore, swinging the curved wall across the canal until it meets with the opposite wall which is also swinging over the canal. The walls are then filled with water and the entire structure sinks and sits on the canal bottom for the duration of the high water. Once the high water recedes, the walls are emptied and everything swung back onto shore. It truly is amazing what these Dutch people have gone through in order to keep their land out of the drink.
We finally reached Hoek Van Holland. Our original plans were to spend a couple of nights in the nearby campground and then go visit Delft via train. But we discovered that there really is no secure storage facility at the ferry port. So if we were to leave in a couple of days we'd have to spend an entire day sitting around the terminal.
APPENDIX A – ROUTE
June 16 Rhine radweg thru Weißenthurm, Andernach, Namedy, Bad Breisig, Remagen, Oberwinter, Unkelbach, Bad Honnef, Königswinter, Bad Godesberg, to Mehelem, 62.4 km
June 17 Rhine radweg thru Bad Godesberg, Bonn, Hersel, Widdig, Wesseling, Sürth, Rodenkirchen to Poll, 42.81 km
June 18 Rhine radweg thru Flittard, Leverkusen, Rhrindorf, Hitdorf, Monheim, Baumberg, Benrath, Holthausen, Volmerswerth, Hamm, Düsseldorf, Niederkassel, Oberlörick, Meerbusch, to Langst-Kierst, 84.64 km
June 19 Rhine radweg thru Nierst, Gellep-Stratum, Linn, Uerdingen, Hochemmerich, Alt-Homberg, Baerl, Orsoy, Eversael, Rheinberg. Hwy B57 to hwy B58 to Wesel, Backroads to camping Grav-Insel 78.72 km
June 20 Rhine radweg thru Beek, Lüttingen, Wardt, Vynen, Niedermörmter, Hönnepel, Grieth, Griethausen, Düffelward, Keeken, Bimmen to Millingen aan de Rijn, approx 46 km
June 21 Bike path 72 to 71 to cross the Rhine, then back roads to Huissen, Rhine bike route thru Huissen, Malburgen, Arnhem, Oosterbeek, Doorwerth, Renkum, Wegeningen, to Rhenen. Bike parh along N225 to Elst, 63.68 km
June 22 Side roads by Eck en Wiel, Maurik to Rijswijk. Rhine bike route thru Zandberg, Buren, Buurmalsen, Geldermalsen, Deil, Beesd, Rumpt, Rhenoy, Asperen, Leerdam, Heuketum, Dalem, to Gornichem. Ferry to Woudrichem, Sleeuwijk, Werkendam, Nieuwendijk. Side roads to camping. 94.4 km
June 24 Back roads to Nieuwendijk. Rhine radweg thru Kopvan 't Land. Main road direct to Dordrecht, 54.67 km
June 25 Bridge to Papendrecht. Rhine radweg thru Oud-Alblas, Alblasserdam, Kinderdijk. Ferry to Krimpen aan de Lek. Bike routes thru Krimpen aan de Ijssel, Gravenland Oost. Rhine radweg to Rotterdam train station. North Sea route to Hoek Van Holland. 67.68 km
APPENDIX B – CAMPSITES
June 16: Rheincamping Siebengebirgsblick in Mehlen, (13.50 €/night)
June 17: Campingplatz Stadt Köln, (17.00 €/night)
June 18: Camping Meersbusch in Langst-Kierst, (16.00 €/night)
June 19: Camping Gravel-Insel near Wesel, (9.00 €/night)
June 20: Camping Rijnhof in Millingen aan de Rijn, (13.30 €/night)
June 21: Vakantlepark De Tabaksschuur in Elst, (16.00 €/night)
June 22: Camping De Kurenpolder (17.00 €/night)
June 23: Camping 't Vissertje in Dordrecht (10.95 €/night)
June 24:Ferry to England (141 €)
Lonely Planet Central Europe Guide
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