When shortcuts go wrong

August 6, 2013

Distance: 58.2 miles                     Climbing: 1151.6 ft

It was drizzling when we woke, but the excitement of a new country did not deter us from getting up. We were headed back to Holland for another free campsite, but we had to cross the greater Antwerp area first. Leaving the campground, we pedaled along a canal, similar to what we had seen in Holland and enjoyed a lovely bike path.

Rainy road

Rainy road

Our route quickly took us to the bustling port area near Antwerp. At first, everything was great. There was lots to look at and we met some fellows biking on their way to work. We had a great bike path, which was nice because there were a lot of giant trucks on the road.

Some company on the way

Some company on the way

It never ends

It never ends

Conex

Containers

We rode along side the guys for a few miles before they turned off for work and the bike path merged with the road. This wasn’t a problem because there were bike route signs leading the way. Eventually, the bike route signs led us to a dead end. A friendly cyclist waved at us from another nearby road that we should go his way. We quickly realized we were in a complicated maze of drawbridges and locks. The traffic pattern was constantly in flux as ships moved through the locks and the bridges went up and down to accommodate them. We made it across the first bridge and were approaching the second, when the gates closed and the bridge went up in the air to let a barge pass, so we had to follow the canal until we found another one that was down.

Can't go that way

Can’t go that way

We made it a little further before being dead ended again. We scoured the GPS map for a while and saw that all the traffic crossed the huge waterway through a tunnel. We looked for a bike lane, pedestrian path, anything, but it quickly became clear this was a motor-only tunnel. The bike lane on the map showed that we should go over a railroad bridge, which didn’t seem like a good idea, but we didn’t have much of an option. So, we found ourselves waiting for at a closed set of gates in front of a raised railroad bridge. The road didn’t look very used, and there wasn’t any signage to indicate when or if the bridge ever went down.

There was a little box with a button on it next to the gate, and we kept daring each other to push it. After about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen, Chan went over and pushed it, and we heard ringing over a speaker. A man answered and luckily spoke a little English. We asked when the bridge went down and he said “I don’t know. When there are no ships, maybe 10 minutes, one hour, many hours. Maybe 20 minutes.”

Well that wasn’t encouraging.

If the bridge didn’t go down we’d have to backtrack miles upon miles upon miles. Chandler and I HATE backtracking. We would rather go a hundred miles out of the way than retrace a few miles. We decided to give it 30 minutes before we gave up. Thankfully, the bridge lowered right as the time was running out and disaster was averted.

Will it ever lower?

Will it ever lower?

The railroad bridge turned out to be fine, we just had to be careful to avoid the tracks set into the pavement. We followed the bike route signs and ended up in a quaint little village. We looked at the bike route map and saw there was a bike ferry that would bring us to the other side to continue the route we were one. So we brought our bikes down to the dock and waited. And waited. And waited. We could see the dock on the other side and there was no one over there, and worse there was no ferry over there either. Chan walked back to land and spotted a tiny printout listing what he interpreted to be ferry landing times, on Saturday and Sunday.

It was Tuesday. So we backtracked.

Power plant

Power plant

It wasn’t all bad, we got to see a nuclear power plant and ride through a bunch of industrial development, and half the bike paths were torn up since they were burying some sort of pipeline. Oh wait, that part was not fun.

When we caught a glimpse of Antwerp we were both happy that we weren’t skipping it after all. The skyline was nothing short of stunning. After all the frustration, we were going to treat ourselves to pizza!

Antwerp

Antwerp skyline (photo doesn’t do it justice)

Antwerp was loaded with really cool architecture and seemed like a great place to lose a day wandering around. However, night time was creeping up and a hotel splurge not in the budget so we ate up and carried on.

Clock tower

Clock tower

We had the interesting experience of taking our bikes down a very old escalator to access a tunnel. It was a little frightening as the bike is really heavy and I had to balance it while holding the brakes with a death grip. We were able to ride through the pedestrian tunnel leading from the city north under the waterway that had thwarted us earlier. We noticed a giant elevator on the other end and opted to take that than relive the experience in reverse.

Escalator fun with bikes

Escalator fun with bikes

Once out of Antwerp, we headed just across the border back into Holland. There was another free campsite near an old fort. We arrived just as the sun was setting. It had been a frustrating ride, but we had kept our cool and saw some interesting stuff. We were glad to have another mellow (and free!) place to unwind and relax. A Belgian couple, who had spent the day geo-caching, showed up, so we were able to socialize a little.

Advertisements

La Tourist Trappe

August 4, 2013

Distance: 32.5 miles                    Climbing: 626.6 ft

We woke up early and everything was quiet. The campsite was pretty trashed by the kids, with beer bottles scattered around. They had taken our camp stools from next to our tent, which Chan eventually found near the smoldering fire. We made breakfast, then Chan got in a little passive aggressive revenge by experimenting with a new technique of cleaning the pots and pans: banging them together really loudly. It didn’t clean the pans at all, but it did rise some miserable groans from the tents, so he chalked it up as a relative success.

So many bike routes to choice from

So many bike routes to choice from

Feeling much less grumpy, we cycled off towards the only Trappist brewery in Holland. There are only 8 Trappist breweries in the world and we had been anticipating Belgian beer since arriving in Europe, so it wasn’t even a question if we were going.

To be an official Trappist brewery, there are a few rules that must be followed. The basic rules of being a Trappist brewery are that the brewery needs to be within the walls of the monestary and be brewed by, or directly under the supervision of monks. Also the main purpose of the brewery needs to be to generate income to support the monks. Sounds pretty cool, let’s go drink some beer!

Entrance to the monastery

Entrance to the monastery

Beers on tap

Beers on tap

We arrived at the La Trappe brewery with high hopes. The tour didn’t start for awhile, so we grabbed a table in the restaurant and ordered a couple beers. The bar/restaurant area was really nice, and although we were in an monestary, we felt like we could have been at any high-end beer bar, so the atmosphere was a little weird. Chandler had the Dubbel and I went with the Blonde. The beers were really good, but being typically Belgian-style, pretty boozy. We finished our drinks just time for the tour, which ended up costing 10€ per person. We thought the price was a bit steep but assumed the tour and free drink would be worth it. Boy, we were wrong.

The tour started with a movie in Dutch with English subtitles and the beer. Half the group spoke English, and all of us that did were on the 10€ tour. Apparently there was another higher-end tour that they stuck us on with, and they all spoke Dutch and got 95% of the attention. The tour guide would go on for about 5-10 minutes talking about a part of the brewery in Dutch, then give us literally two sentences in English. We’re used to this, and yeah it’s our fault we don’t speak Dutch, but it wasn’t a free tour and the half of us that spoke english were definitely treated like second-class riff-raff.

On top of all this, the tour guide knew almost nothing about the actual production of beer. She showed us a big room and said “this is where the beer is made”. Chan asked a few basic questions about the process, and she just told us the recipe was “secret” in a coy way. She was just a public relations bobble-head who clearly didn’t care if we learned anything about Trappist brewing.

The focus was on a bunch of propaganda bull but about how green the monastery and brewery have become, as she showed us a dozen solar panels on the roof. In the end, we discovered that the La Trappe brewery is owned by the Bavaria Corporation, so everything suddenly made sense. We later found out that their “Trappist” title had been stripped from them a few years ago, and only recently reclaimed after they reformed some of their dubious practices.

A bit of the brewery

This is where the beer is made. No questions.

We left feeling disappointed and that we had wasted money on the tour. It really would have been better to not gone on the tour and bought a six pack at the grocery store and read about the tour online instead. The biggest peeve was that the beer was pretty good. Oh well.

Bike path paved, road not

Bike path paved, road not

We spent the night at another free campsite. As we rode up, the only thing we hoped for was that it would be empty or occupied by adults. We were happy to discover that we were the only ones there! The site ended up being really nice with a fire pit and trees for our hammocks. We went to bed early to catch up on lost sleep.

Best way to relax

Best way to relax

Our bikes

Our bikes

Silence is golden

August 3, 2013

Distance: 31.5 miles                     Climbing: 918.6 ft

We woke up late to another beautiful day. After taking down the tent, breakfast and packing everything away, we noticed a sign. Apparently, there was some sort of a trail that headed out onto an island we were next to. We weren’t planning on going to far, so figured going on a little walk was a good idea. The walk was short and led us to a waterway with a little hand ferry. We immediately took the opportunity to play on it. Ah, how easily amused we are at times!

Bringing the boat it

Bringing the boat it

Taking us across the river

Tugging us across

Chan

Chan looking good

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the toy and got on the road. We kind of ended up just plowing through the miles. We didn’t have any specific places to visit along the way, so just headed to the next free campsite in the general direction we wanted to go.

Lovely scenery

Lovely scenery

Another tunnel

Another tunnel

We got to the free campsite and there was another tent set up right next to the water pump, so if we tried to use the pump, it would spray the tent. We thought that was a little strange, but set up our tent, the solar panel the charge the tablet and made ourselves at home. As we made dinner, a young man biked up to the tent and explained that the water was not safe for drinking. A few of his friends then cycled up and set up another two tents. They were friendly and explained that the first friend living at the campsite for the summer. Oh ok, interesting. When everyone was done getting situated, all three boys left. We set up our hammocks to relax for evening.

End of the day tasks

End of the day tasks

Pretty bike

Pretty bike

Solar charger

Solar charger

We were both really tired and fell asleep before 10pm and before the boys returned. We heard them come back sometime later, but weren’t too worried. WRONG!!! They were fine at first, they made a bonfire and weren’t too loud. Occasionally, one of the boys would yell out “HELLO” and then laugh hysterically. We were both so exhausted that we would wake up for a moment, but then fall right back to sleep. Around 1am, another kid motorbike came and started to rev and rev and rev the engine, right next to our tent. I was just about the get out of the tent and give these teenagers the stern adult talking to about keeping quiet, but then it was perfectly quiet again and I fell back to sleep. The random shout/laughter continued through most of the night.

Next time, we won’t stay at a free camp so close to the road or a town.

Atlantic at last

August 2, 2013

Distance: 45.3 miles            Climbing: 1082.7 ft

The morning started with a trip to the beach. The beach was super crowded and we had to walk a while before we reached a stretch with fewer people. Chandler opted to go for a swim, while I was a chicken and took pictures instead. I grew up swimming in the safety of clear, chlorinated water and have a healthy fear of the ocean, so the water was a little too cloudy for my taste.

Seashells

Seashells

Chandler the brave

Chandler the brave, still wearing his “t-shirt”

Lucky for Chan, there were showers to rinse off the salt water after his little dip. Then if was off to the Delta Works. In 1953, a storm surge breached the levee system protecting low-lying land in Zeeland (this is the “old” Zealand, with a more recent namesake in the southern hemisphere). The breach resulted in massive flooding which destroyed lots of property and killed almost 2,000 people. This disaster spurred research and funding to build a defensive system to prevent future catastrophe- which is now known as the Delta Works. The idea behind the system is to block the mouths of estuaries to reduce the effective length of the shoreline. Since regular dams would impede shipping traffic and cause massive ecological damage, the primary means of protection are storm barriers which are usually left open to allow ships and water to flow freely, but can be closed when a storm is expected. These barriers eliminate the need to build massive levees along the waterways inland, as the surge will be blocked as close to the ocean as possible.

Great road for cycling

Great road for cycling

We pedaled along the water with plenty of interesting things to watch. There were many boats, of all sizes, in the water. We were passing through a bit of an industrial area, so we got to watch a number of cranes loading up cargo ships.

We reached the Maeslant Barrier in the early afternoon and were happy for the break, it was getting hot. The barrier is unique in that it is usually sitting idle on dry land. The barrier sits at the mouth of the River Scheur which is extremely busy with shipping traffic heading to Rotterdam, so a barrier that impedes the waterway was undesirable. The gate has two symmetrical arms on either shore which can be floated out into the channel until they meet, then their buoyant compartments are flooded and the whole thing is sunk so that it rests on a special concrete platform on the river bottom, with a portion remaining above the water level to block the surge. It is basically a massive semi-portable dam! The system is designed to operate in order to block the one in ten year storm surge: 3 meters above normal sea level. Our pictures didn’t really do it justice- it may be better to look at it in the satellite image version of our route map above.

The Delta Works

The Delta Works

We had another fun discovery of Holland today. There are huge tunnels under the canals for traffic, some specifically for motorbikes and bicyclists. The tunnels went far underground and were surprisingly long and chilly.

Entrance to the tunnel

Entrance to the tunnel

There's no end in sight

There’s no end in sight

We made it to another free campsite. We had to go through a few gates and pastures, dodge a couple sheep, but eventually found the right place. We thought the last place was nice, but this place was better. We had a water pump, fire pit, picnic table and a beautiful view. It was so nice to sit down at a proper table to make dinner, instead of chopping veggies on the ground or my lap. We finished the meal with our favorite Dutch treat, stroopwafel. These delicious snacks are two tiny wafers or waffles stuck together with a tiny layer of caramel. I think we have each eaten our body weight in them and are happy to be cycling.

Road block

Road block

Perfect spot

Perfect spot

Dessert

Dessert

Windmills

July 31, 2013

Distance: 53.4 miles                             Climbing: 1184.4 ft

Considering we were in Holland, we wanted to not only see windmills, but to go inside one. Leonie had made the suggestion that we head North to Zaans Schans to check out the windmills. So, after saying goodbye to her outside her apartment, we headed North. Thank you again Leonie for letting us stay at your place. We had a wonderful time and it was so nice to see you again. I hope we can return your kindness sometime in the future.

It took some time to meander our way out of the city. The wind conspired against us and the scenery was primarily industrial, and not real photogenic. We were passing through a chemical plant of some sort, wondering if we were going the right way when we suddenly saw a windmill right in the middle of the industrial area. We rounded the corner and took a bridge over the river we had been shadowing.

There were half dozen windmills lining the riverbank, all in working order and in use. Each cost 3€ each to visit, so we decided to choose between a peanut oil mill, a sawmill, a spice mill and a mill that makes pigments for paint. We went with the peanut oil mill because it sounded interesting, smelled nice and there weren’t a lot of other tourists in it. The mill was originally built in 1676, but with the increased use of steam powered machines, it became obsolete and no longer used. In 1925, it was severely damaged during a storm. However, in the 1940s, volunteers repaired the damages and the windmill has been in use since the 1950s.

P1030599

Windmill

The De Zaansche molen (“molen” means mill in Dutch) was pretty incredible and surprisingly complicated. In the most basic terms, the sails, driven by the wind, turn two massive stones. These millstones, weighing over 5500 pounds each, are attached to an axle and roll over the peanuts, crushing them. There are wooden guides attached somewhere in there, which keep the peanuts from spilling off the edge, and direct them back under the stones. Because the millstones are constantly moving, the stones are painted blue and white so they are more visible in poor light.

Millstones and wooden guides

Millstones and wooden guides

When the peanuts are sufficiently smooshed, the peanut meal is cooked on a stove. This stove also conveniently keeps coffee or soup warm.

Heating the meal

Heating the meal

The cooked peanut meal is then put into woolen bags and placed in a little slot which has a pan below it to collect the oil. There is a cam somewhere up in the gears on the second story which catches, raises then releases a large wood ram over and over, creating a very loud sound as it pounds a wedge which squeezes the oil out of the peanut meal.

Block used to pound the meal

Block used to pound the meal

Pounded cakes

Pounded cakes

The process is then repeated once more to each batch of peanuts. The left over cakes can then be feed to cattle. We were also allowed upstairs to get a look at how the spinning sails spun the millstones. It was a crazy scene of massive spinning wooden shafts and gears. Chan had to watch his head as one of the 6 foot diameters gears was spinning at about eye level for him. It wasn’t even that windy but it was a little scary in there. We walked out on the deck and watched the sails fly by at an alarming speed.

Sails

Sails

The device to move the cap of the windmill

The device to move the cap of the windmill

After our windmill adventure, we booked it to a free campsite. Chandler read about a network of free campsite around Holland. All are off the road system and can only be accessed on foot or bike. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we hoped it would be more interesting than the generic pay campsites we had been frequenting. On the way, we took what seemed like the smallest ferry ever. It was only for bikes and pedestrians, but we were a little cramped with three people and three bikes.

Tiny ferry

Tiny ferry

Our free campsite ended up being in a pasture full of sheep. It was minimally signed, and we certainly wouldn’t have found it without the GPS coordinates. We read that there was usually a water pump that you had to camp within 10 meters of, but there wasn’t one. Just a sign an a stick lean-too thing someone had made. We made friends with our fellow campers. From our experience, sheep are easily frightened. We were both surprised to have the sheep walk right up to us and even allowed me to pet one. It was very soft as it had a nice layer of fleece. One even laid down next to our tent at one point, maybe they just wanted to cuddle. There were some cows in an adjoining field, but they kept their distance.

Our free campsite mates

Our free campsite mates

Chan and cows

Chan and cows