I feel some sympathy for those who planned Lelystad. Damming the sea and creating 1400 square kilometres of dry land is hard enough; building a brand new town that people will love is even harder.
The city fathers of Lelystad have been trying their best, but people from longer established parts of the Netherlands still sneer at the place. It has some smart modern architecture, the New Land Museum, a replica of the ship Batavia and some interesting public art but where’s the soul? Where’s the atmosphere?
The city’s slogan is ‘Lelystad gives air’. The posters show a picture of a sea eagle, labelled ‘Our House Sparrow’. The publicity stresses the open space available for living, but as a wag on the internet says of the town, ‘I’m not so big – how much space do I need?’
The name, Lelystad (‘Lily Town’), suggests a charming garden city. In fact, the city is named after Cornelis Lely, the engineering brains behind the scheme to dam the Zuider Zee and reclaim the land on which the town stands.
Mr Lely stands in front of the Lelystad Town Hall, on a ridiculously tall column. To their credit, the Dutch don’t usually go in for triumphal statues of great leaders; they leave that to the French and Italians. Who was it thought Lelystad needed this to put it on the map?
If the idea was to create an icon that would imprint the town on the national consciousness, there are much better efforts in Lelystad. I love Antony Gormley’s squatting figure Exposure (above) and this work too…
Lelystad was only founded in 1967. Its biggest drawcard for visitors at the moment is Batavia Stad, a fashion outlet centre…
…and there is some interest in the replica of the ill-fated ship Batavia. The stranding of the boat off the coast of Australia led to a mutiny and the bloody murder of numerous passengers and crew.
I travelled to Lelystad on the bike of course. The route out of Amsterdam began with a ride through the attractive old village of Muiden…
…then out into farmland.
From here I had a decision to make. I could head inland to the town of Almere, or brace myself for a windy ride along the dyke by the Isselmeer.
Since my project was to ride a circuit of the lake, I chose the windy road. It’s a 30 kilometre stretch of flat bike path, shared with pelotons of serious riders on serious bikes.
There’s a rule of cycling in Holland that there is always wind, and another rule is that the wind is almost always against you. This was no exception, and there’s nowhere to shelter when perched on a dyke.
It was a 64 kilometre ride to the station at Lelystad. I fortified myself with a coffee by Cafe le Journal, then turned my trusty steed towards the south.
Since I’d pedalled into headwinds on the way out, simple physics should mean tailwinds on the return trip. A 30km or so ride to Almere Station would give me a worthy century in total kms, then I could hop on the train to Amsterdam.
Nice plan on paper. Winds have a habit of turning, and buses have a habit of replacing trains during holiday periods – track work, you know. “Yes, sir, the bus will take your bike, but it depends on whether there’s room and you’ll have to change at Weesp and get off at Amsterdam Zuid.” A hassle, in other words.
In Almere the computer told me I had 98km already on the clock and a further 34km to get back home.
I ended up riding the full round trip and staggered into Amsterdam well pleased with my day’s work, though my knees didn’t entirely share my enthusiasm.
For the full inzoomable route – click here.