With signage like this, who could get lost?
Mevrouw Tulloch loves Art Nouveau furniture. I like bike riding. After a short but spirited discussion, we agree to spend a Sunday riding the bikes from Amsterdam to the village of Laren, where more Art Nouveau chairs than you can shake a stick at are on display in the Singer Museum
It’s a few hours ride away, so we have to find a good bike route to get there. I don’t have a GPS or even a computer on the bike. I’m past caring about my maximum heart rate.
Finding a Dutch cycle route is easy. I get on the net and go to a Dutch ‘bike route planner’ website. [NOTE: There are a few of these - google 'fietsrouteplanner'.] I’m able to type in our location (Sloterkade Amsterdam) at one end, and ‘Singer Museum, Laren’ at the other. Up pops a map with the suggested door to door cycle route, distance (a modest 37.9km), estimated time (a comfortable 2 hours 6 minutes), calories needed (724 – how many are in a bowl of muesli and a slice of toast?) and noting our interest in art, it even suggests a couple of other museums we may find worth seeing along the way.
There are detailed instructions (in Dutch, I’m afraid) about turning left, diagonally right and going straight ahead, but for those who find Dutch a challenging language there’s a list of numbers in friendly green circles – 52, 55, 59, 15, 78, 79, 80… These I note down on a scrap of paper. Then we get on the bikes and set off – on the cycle paths of course – in Holland riding between those slow cumbersome motor vehicles is considered unnecessarily annoying and something to be avoided at all costs.
Number 52 is the point in Amsterdam, pictured above. It’s a ‘knooppunt’ (knot point), one of which we’ll be passing every few kilometres. Notice above my bike there’s a map with a ‘you are here’ and directions to knooppunt 55, the next one we need to find on our way to our destination, knooppunt 80 by Laren.
As if we needed any more directions, those signs above list towns we could visit. ‘Muiden’ happens to be our next one.
The cycle path looks like this...
Following the fietsnetwerk (bike network) route from knooppunt to knooppunt is easy and we roll along from 55, 59…to 80 where those Art Nouveau chairs are waiting. The Singer Museum won’t let us sit on them, but they do offer comfortable alternatives.
I won’t pretend that we did the route in less than the estimated two hours and six minutes, because we stopped to admire the villages of Muiden (lock and castle) and Naarden (old fortified town with moat), and we road tested the local chocolademelk and appeltaart.
Needless to say, the bike network chooses routes through the more attractive parts of the country. Canals, powerlines and motorways are nearly always in sight, but so too are cows, sheep and swans most of the time. If there’s a choice to be made between the fast route and the scenic one, green cycling signs indicate the latter, red ones the former.
Signs at every intersection indicate the direction of the next knooppunt.
Bike path into Hilversum Station
Finally when we’ve had enough of riding and Art Nouveau (I enjoyed that too, by the way), we head for the train line. At Hilversum Station, a few kilometres from Laren, you can hire a bike, buy a bike, park a bike, or leave a bike to get repaired while you go to work. We put ours on the train (it costs 6 euros a day for a bike pass which you can then use on any train in the country). This saves us having to ride into the stiff breeze which is now blowing rather too directly from Amsterdam.
A lot of money has been invested in this cycling system. But surely it’s paid off. Recreational cycling is enormous here, no doubt with considerable public health benefits. About half the Dutch population regularly uses bikes to get to school or work, thus avoiding ripping up the roads and polluting the air with their cars. That’s what I call a civilized society!