2020 was due to be our 10th consecutive trip to The Netherlands. As before, we were due to spend a week at Duinrell with friends and family. We were also planning a stay at Vakantiepark Koningshof, not far from Katwijk the week before.
Unfortunately, world events and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that. In the scheme of things, there’s bigger things to be worrying about right now, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
Rather than dwell on what might have been, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at our previous trips to The Netherlands, going back a long time before I started the blog and was really aware of transport cycling as a thing.
Let’s go back a long long time ago
My first time in The Netherlands was way back in 1989, when we went on a school trip to Maastricht. It was a few years before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and the founding of the European Union, so it wasn’t really a place we’d heard of before.
I don’t remember too much about that trip now. Though there was a tour of the caves, a boat trip on the river, some dry tobogganing and a distinct lack of bikes. That last one was a big surprise, this was The Netherlands, famous for windmills, clogs, land reclamation and bikes!
Even at that age, I was already a little bike obsessed (mainly mountain bikes), so I was a little disappointed.
The next time I was in The Netherlands was in 1992, on an art college trip to Amsterdam. This was very much a tour of the city and museums, including the likes of the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Fast forward a few years and I was back in Amsterdam again in 2000, over a busy Easter weekend.
Amsterdam felt much more typically Dutch than Maastricht, with its canals, medieval buildings and lots of bikes. It was busy with people everywhere, but still easy to get around. I still hadn’t cycled in The Netherlands as this point. We didn’t get the opportunity to hire a bike or maybe didn’t really think too much about doing so.
Fast forward a few more years to 2008 and I was back in Amsterdam, this time with my partner as part of an Interrail trip around Europe. Amsterdam had changed a little by then. It was cleaner and there more tourists, more bikes and lots of new modern buildings to complement the old medieval city.
We returned to Amsterdam again in the autumn of 2009, now as a family with our eldest. We had friends living in the city who we could stay with, so we got to experience more of a local’s view of the city.
Based near Vondelpark, we were ideally located for getting about the city on bike. This area of Amsterdam is far more chilled than the central tourist areas. Vondelpark really is one of the gems of the city, there’s nothing quite like spending a sunny day in the bustling, but yet relaxed atmosphere of the park.
Our friends had a selection of Dutch bikes we could ride during our stay, so we had our first taste of Dutch transport cycling. Upright bikes built for comfort, high quality protected cycling infrastructure and no helmets or Lycra. It was definitely something different to what you’d experience back home in the UK.
Cycling (or even walking) in Amsterdam can be a little confusing at first. With so many people on bikes and lanes for cycles, motor vehicles and trams, you’re not always sure where you should be, or where you should be looking. Crossing some roads is not dissimilar to a game of Frogger or Crossy Road! You get used to it though.
Our friends had a bakfiets too, a Babboe 3 wheeler. So we got to do a bit of family cycling, using a cycle built for the job of ferrying kids about. We had the pleasure of riding this through the city and catching the ferry across to the north side to grab something to eat at IJ-kantine, which was really pleasant.
It’s surprising that ferries are still the main way for people walking and cycling to cross to the north side, as there’s no bridge. Apparently, there’s nothing stopping a bridge being built, it’s just previously there wasn’t much demand for it previously. Now that the north side is changing, there’s talk about a walking and cycling bridge being built.
Riding a 3 wheeled bakfiets with kids in the front was an interesting experience. I wasn’t prepared for how different it feels to riding a normal bicycle. It was a bit harder than I expected and riding on any kind of camber or into corners can felt a bit odd.
We never bought a bakfiets ourselves. With the multitude of barriers and inaccessible paths in the UK, it didn’t seem like a good idea. I know many others have, though I know a few people who’ve been disappointed by the experience in the UK. If I was in the market for one, I would definitely be getting an electric assist 2 wheeler though!
While in Amsterdam, we took the kids to Tunfun, which bills itself as Europe’s largest underground playpark. While the kids obviously had fun, what made this interesting was where it had been constructed, as it’s built within what used to be an underpass and car park in Mr. Visserplein.
It’s pretty obvious what the original use was, once you’re inside. The road is still present and provides the setting for the play area, along with the original surfaces and kerbs.
From what I can determine (this may not be 100% correct), the underpass was part of a plan to build a motorway and metro line into the eastern centre of the city. The Nieuwmarkt riots in 1975 put a stop to much of the development, as people were understandably angry about the destruction of many old buildings to make way for the metro.
The underpass used to connect to the IJ tunnel, which is the car tunnel to the north side of Amsterdam. This was still in use until around 2008, when it was closed and the entrances removed.
It’s such a clever and inventive way to reuse an underpass. I’m suspect if it would have been the UK, the underpass would have just been filled in. Not that we tend to close many underpasses.
After a fun time at Tunfun, we headed back for our last evening before heading home.
After a break in 2010, we were back in The Netherlands in the summer of 2011. While we were staying with our friends again in Amsterdam, there was a different motive for the trip, as I was potentially looking at taking a job in The Hague. The job didn’t happen, but it was great opportunity to return to The Netherlands and get to see another part of the country.
After arriving at Schiphol Airport, we dropped off our bags and jumped on the train to The Hague for our first visit to the city. As part of getting a feel for the city, we spent time in the centre, the woods at Haagse Bos and the beach at Scheveningen (I still can’t pronounce it!).
As a city, it’s very different to the other places we’d been to in The Netherlands and doesn’t have that much in common with the likes of Amsterdam. It’s much more sprawling, with wide roads and lots of motor traffic. It’s not as busy Amsterdam though, with fewer tourists and there’s access to a beach.
We didn’t cycle during this visit to The Hague. Instead, we relied on the trams for getting about. These were great, though not the most accessible with a buggy. Little did we know at this time we’d end up returning to The Hague many times over the next few years, with most of that time riding round.
Back in Amsterdam, we had the pleasure of an evening out in the city, without the kids. We started at the rather wonderful Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark, then moved on into the city on our bikes. On a sunny summer evening, this was fantastic!
The next day, we headed out on the bikes, over to the petting zoo in Westerpark. We had the kids in the bakfiets again and it was a pleasure cycling over to the other side of the city. Even with the fairly busy roads, it’s still much more pleasurable cycling with the family, than it ever is in the UK.
After the petting zoo, we spent a relaxing afternoon in Westerpark, before heading back through the city on the bikes for our last evening.
Next to part 2 – 2012