Tag Archives: Zeeland

HULST, ZEELAND – blown a little off course

Windkracht (Wind Force) do their thing.

I steered a few kilometres off the official Pieperpad cycle route, because I’d heard Hulst was a lovely quiet little village.

It was once an important fort, so it’s surrounded by a wall and a moat, with a huge cathedral and more than its fair share of attractive old buildings.

Somehow a small but noisy army had made it across the drawbridge. Continue reading

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LEKKER FIETSEN – ready to ride the spud trail

The Pieperpad guidebook, published by ANWB.


Tomorrow our Big Bike Tour starts. Tyres have been pumped, bike chains oiled, panniers packed, the guidebook studied, camera batteries charged and, this being 2011 and we being groovy up-to-the-minute people, maps downloaded to the iPad2. Continue reading

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TOUR DE FRANCE – the dangerous Rotterdam-Brussels stage

Bike, windmill, camera - a fatal combination

G’day again, Lance.

You did well in the prologue time trial yesterday. An impressive 4th place on a drying track. Still 3633km to go, and quite a lot of them (223.5) are coming up today, so you’ll need my advice. I hope you can get email in the hotel, and if they have wifi, bring the laptop to the breakfast table, because I have a few things you need to know about…

Today Le Tour heads out of Rotterdam, down through Zeeland, then into Belgium and stops at Brussels. I’ve been to all those places already, so I won’t be coming with you today, but I think you’ll have fun.

Incidentally, you may have heard by now that Holland and Belgium are no longer part of France. Perhaps they were when the route for this stage was set out – I don’t know how long in advance the tour organisers plan these things. But it all changed after the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Perhaps the contracts were signed and they couldn’t get out of it. Anyway, it’s all set in stone now, and yours not to reason why…

There is a trap for young players in the Dutch countryside. You’ll find there is an almost irresistible temptation to stop at every windmill and take a photo (see sample above). There are lots of them down in Zeeland, where wind is a major import/export, but if you try to capture them all you won’t be in fourth place by the end of the day. Windmill photography is a complete waste of time, and I speak from experience, Lance.

Down in Belgium you’ll be passing through Antwerp. There’s an interesting street of Art Nouveau architecture near Antwerpen-Berchem Station. It’s a bit off the designated stage route, so I don’t suggest you go there yourself. However if you see Contador at the start line, whisper to him that I highly recommended it and he may lose a bit of time going looking for it. I know how Alberto loves his Art Nouveau and it’s quite hard to find without a Tom-Tom (a Dutch GPS device).

The hand thrower, Antwerp


Next little obstacle: In the main city square of Antwerp there’s this fountain/statue of a man throwing a severed hand. The name Antwerp comes from the Dutch for hand throwing – ‘Hand werpen’. The story goes that this chap used to demand a toll from passers-by, and cut off the hand of anyone who didn’t have exact change. It sounds crazy, I know, but Belgian authorities were very strict in those days. Belgium hasn’t had a government or any authorities for quite some time, so there’s probably nothing to worry about, but I suggest you put a few euros in your back pockets all the same. The shopping in Antwerp is supposed to be good.

Next it’s on to Mechelen. Nice town, another pretty square.

Mechelen town square

Mevrouw T and I were there a little while ago. Your bike is probably lighter than ours, Lance, but our city bikes were ideal for the Mechelen cobblestones. Maybe you should consider borrowing a city bike for that section. Mevrouw T is a bit fussy about who uses her bike, but I’d be happy to lend you mine if your mechanic guys could give the chain a bit of oil after the race. Third gear slips a bit too – perhaps they could take a look at that. Leave a comment on this blog if you’d like to take up the offer.

Some people find Brussels a bit boring, but they have good beer and chocolate, and the EU headquarters. The end of the race may not be too interesting either. It’s a dead flat stage, so…desultory breakaway, peleton catches them with 5km to go, mass sprint, Cavendish wins, all the usual stuff.

I don’t know why they make these sprint stages so long. They could have just said, ‘First to the end of Rotterdam’s Erasmus Bridge – go!’ then put you all on the train to Brussels. You can take bikes on Dutch and Belgian trains – 6 euros for a day pass. Maybe you could suggest it to the organisers; they’re more likely to listen to you than to me.

I hope all this helps, Lance. I’m planning to be down at the kerbside in Rotterdam, so give us a wave when you pass. If you can’t take a hand off the handlebars, just a nod and a wink will do. I’ll know who you are.

Cheers, Richard

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BIKES ON DYKES – cycling Zeeland, Netherlands

Visitors to Holland are quickly taught the rule – don’t stand chatting in the bike lane. So it’s a surprise when in the cycling paradise of Zeeland we come across Dutch premier Jan Pieter Balkenende and his retinue doing just that, blocking our progress across the Eastern Schelde dam. Sleek black limousines are parked on the path by the ‘bikes only’ sign.

‘The prime minister of South Korea is visiting,’ a driver tells us. ‘We’re showing him our dykes.’

Ah, fair enough. Everybody should see these dykes. As sea levels rise, the world will have much to learn from the Zeelanders. My wife and I came here to ride through the idyllic countryside, past the old windmills and through the ancient towns and villages, but we’re finding the modern engineering just as impressive.

The residents of this chain of flat islands have had a love/hate relationship with the sea for centuries. In good times, the sea provided the wealth that made a town like Middelburg one of the most important trading centres of renaissance Europe. In bad times, when dykes were breached by warfare or sea surges, Zeeland has literally and tragically gone under.

We start our tour in Middelburg, a splendid medieval city on the island of Walchers. I say ‘medieval’, though few buildings survived the German fire bombing in 1940. A remarkable reconstruction effort has made the town look old and beautiful again. The mighty clock tower Lange Jan (Tall John) erected in the time of William of Orange, dominates Middelburg, while below it the 12th century abbey has been converted to a museum. The modern art in the temporary exhibition leaves us a little bewildered, but the sun shines in a lovely abbey courtyard, and we enjoy a coffee and a local Zeeuwse bolus, a doughnut-like scroll with apple and cinnamon to sweeten the glug.
Middelburg
Next morning we roll down beside the canal to Middelburg’s competitor, Vlissingen. By reputation it’s a no-nonsense business centre, less touristy than Middelburg. We particularly enjoy the Maritime MuZEEum. As well as a good coverage of early and modern seafaring it shows a short film (in English) telling of Zeeland’s tragedy during WWII. As Allied forces closed in on the German troops occupying Middleburg, the dykes came down and the sea came in. Those who escaped with their lives lost their homes, livestock and livelihoods.

We wind our way north along the coastal villages, now popular seaside resorts. Bulldozers continuously reinforce the dunes along the North Sea, while behind them forests have been planted and wetlands developed. Thousands of wading birds are breeding and hundreds of Zeelanders and tourists are out cycling and walking.

We come to the magnificent Delta Works, where we meet the aforementioned heads of state. A remarkable system of dams and floodgates keeps the sea at bay, allowing it to flow through when it’s behaving itself and keeping it out when it looks dangerous.

Eastern Schelde Dam

The Delta Works are not only impressive, they’re also beautiful. The road swoops evenly towards a perfectly regular row of blocks and arches stretching into the distance. Floodgates, each forty metres wide, let the sea slosh through below. Road signs are bright royal blue, boom gates red and white, and soaring above us are rows of modern white windmills, silently generating power. Somebody very efficient is in control in Zeeland, and we find it reassuring.

I was interested to read (in Alain de Botton’s book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work) that the picture postcard windmills of old were often condemned as ugly industrial blots on the landscape, until Golden Age painters like Jacob van Ruysdael pointed out their charm. Maybe in 300 years’ time there’ll be a preservation society fighting to save a few elegant white specimens from our primitive age of electricity.

When the cavalcade of dignitaries moves on, we ride across the dam behind it. We’re on the ‘Strijd Tegen Water’ (‘Fight Against Water) cycle route. It leads us around sea walls and through lovely Zierikzee to Ouwerkerk, now a neat little village, with cropped trees and manicured gardens. It’s hard to imagine that on the night of February 1, 1953, this was the scene of the Netherlands’ greatest natural disaster.

When a massive storm burst the dyke, the ocean rushed in. Over 1800 people and 182,000 animals drowned. Fifty thousand homes were destroyed and for the next eight months high tides washed over the island, covering everything in a thick layer of sand.

The event is remembered in the nearby Watersnoodmuseum, or ‘Water Emergency Museum’. Housed in the massive ‘caissons’, concrete bins that eventually dammed the breach, it gives an excellent explanation (in English and Dutch) of the disaster, moving eye witness accounts and an inspiring summary of the clean-up and subsequent engineering works, designed to ensure that it never happens again.

The final section of the museum, opened just the day before our visit, looks into the future. In times of climate change, the world may well look for ideas in an efficiently organised country where more than half the population already lives below sea level.

As we enthusiastically sign the visitors’ book we notice the names on the previous page – J.P. Balkenende and Mr Han Seung-Soo. We assume their messages (illegible to us, especially the one in Korean) say they enjoyed Zeeland as much as we did.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: Trains run every hour from Amsterdam to Middelburg. The trip takes about 2.5 hours and costs EUR26.30 one way.

Staying there: B&B de Kaepstander in Middelburg has doubles for EUR67. See kaepstander.nl. Numerous other accommodation options are on vvvzeeland.nl

Further information: Entry to the Maritiem MuZEEum costs EUR8, and the Waternoodsmuseum EUR6. See muZEEum.nl and vvvzeeland.nl.

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Filed under Budget travel, Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, travel photography, Travel- Europe