Two Wheels Have the Right of Way
by Grace Ann Stevens
I just returned from a fabulous week-long barge and biking tour of southern Netherlands (which many of us still call Holland)—the land of tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and, yes, bicycles! We traveled on canals and rivers and biked through urban and rural areas, as well as up through the dunes along the North Sea.
My friends and I went a few days early so we could visit the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse to see the spring blooming of millions of flowers. That put us in the right mood!
The tour started on a Saturday in Amsterdam, where we stowed all our gear on a long, sleek, well-appointed vessel, the “De Amsterdam” (which bore little resemblance to what I think of as a “barge”), then spent the rest of the day playing tourist in the city. We slept that night on board, and then promptly in the morning sailed down to Breukelen, where we took our first bike trip along the river Vecht to Utrecht. After exploring that city, our barge took us all the way down to Rotterdam. The next day we took a long, circular bike ride through that city to the nearby town of Delft (famous for its blue and white pottery) and back. Then another night in Rotterdam before heading back the way we had come at a more leisurely pace, taking the rest of the week to take more bike rides and see more sights.
The days were long. By 9 a.m. we were on our bikes for a 30- to 40-mile ride. Although the country is mostly flat, there are often strong headwinds to bike against, so unless you are a strong biker, I recommend that you opt for an electric bike to make the ride stress free—I did that. Most days the barge traveled as we biked, meeting us at a new port at the end of the day. Other days the barge would leave at night, so we had to get back to it from our bike rides and other excursions by a certain time. My friends and I often were a bit late, but we somehow always made it.
The day we left Rotterdam, we biked to Kinderdijk, the location of a UNESCO World Heritage Site for windmills. I was surprised to learn that the initial purpose of windmills, starting in the 1300s, was to help pump water from the land to make it usable for agriculture. It was hard to believe the difficult lives of those who lived in the mills, as they had to pump the water day and night as needed. But it worked! To this day, the average altitude of the Netherlands is about a meter below sea level.
All along the routes we took, bikers were everywhere, as it is by far the main mode of urban travel in Holland. The sidewalks have walking lanes and bike lanes. The streets have room for cars and scooters and trams. My biggest surprise is that it appeared that only the tourists were wearing helmets. Bikes were a variety of functional beasts, not racers. Kids were carried in bike seats and in something called a “cargo bike,” which I can best describe as a bicycle with wheelbarrow-like box between the handlebars and its small front wheel. The locals were comfortable darting in and out in any small space, and the cars deferred—yes, deferred!— to almost all the bikers, as bicycles seemed to have the right of way. I even saw one high-rise building that turned out to be a garage for up to 7,000 bikes.
Although early in the week we started our rides on cold mornings, by the end of the week, when we arrived in Haarlem, the temperatures had warmed up to the 70s. From Haarlem, we biked to the dunes and beaches along the North Sea. It was actually a fine, sunny beach day, although the water was frigid. We found the famous herring stands and were able to get an amazing lunch of fried fish as we sat along the beach in Zandvoort. The last day of cycling was in Zaandam, just outside of Amsterdam, where we visited an open-air museum, Zaanse Schans, with its Old Dutch village, complete with a wooden-shoe maker!
I loved this trip and would easily return to The Netherlands again. You might think of adding a trip like this to your bucket list.
Photo credits by author.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace holds a degree in engineering and was married for 25 years. After four decades working as an engineer, her marriage ended and she returned to school to receive a masters degree in Counseling Psychology. Today she works with individuals and corporations who seek to understand the issues and emotions related to gender variance. Grace is still an active road bicyclist and remains close to her three adult children and two grandchildren who fully accept her journey. Grace resides outside Boston and can be reached via her website at: www.liveurtruth.net.