May 24, 2009

Bicycling to Utrecht : Slow and easy

It had been a cold and rainy two weeks, but May 24, Saturday, was promising to be sunny. So I set off for Utrecht on my trusty bike, now in its second week.

I went through google maps choosing a "walking" path along parks and waterbodies. But I needn't have bothered. For one, I got lost promptly and found myself in the ugly industrial area near the Arena, but then I found my way back to Oudekerk and the Amstel quite easily.

This is the Groene Hart of Holland, and your route doesn't matter much - most of it is simply beautiful. The ride felt more like going through a park: green-leafed Canals and windmills everywhere, boats on tranquil lakes and old couples with picnic baskets or the odd mallard or coot lounging on benches at water's edge, boats of all kinds - motorboats small and large, rowboats and inflatable kayaks, pontoons with kids jumping on and off - even the houses had a fairytale look.

Also, they have bicycle maps posted at key points!

I had taken a sandwich and a bottle of wine, and I chose a bridge with the canal flowing under me for having lunch. It was a low bridge, and pretty soon some boats came and were waiting on either side. Then a woman came up in a scooter to open the bridge I was sitting on.

here's where I had my little lunch. the boat behind waited for some twenty minutes before the bridge was opened.
As the boats passed by, the operator would lower a wooden clog like a fishing-pole, and the boats would put some money. No doubt this is an ancient dutch tradition of tipping the gatekeeper.

Though I took it slow and easy, it was a pleasure for me to see this sign - it was a 45 km ride, after all. Of course, by the time I was halfway, the pros were riding back from their 100K circuits in their helmeted racing bikes.

Once I reached Utrecht, I found a carnival going on in a park. Then I had dinner by the Oudegracht (lit. "old canal"). This has large loading bays for the boats to offload salt and other merchandise; and the subterranean warehouses next to them have of course become restaurants - all of them apparently. I ate at a french style (Burgundy) place called Den Draeck - the sirloin tips was quite good.

By now it was 10PM and night so I took the train back! Sadly, that took only 15 minutes.


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Route Breakup

Down to the Amstel to Abcoude (16km)

This is a lovely stretch mostly along the Amstel river. Once on the Amsteldijk (left bank), it's mostly parkland (though I missed this stretch this time, I've done it other times). At van Boshuizenstraat, you cross an old windmill with a statue of Rembrandt, and then it's wide open, a few grand houses and lazy boats till you reach oudekerk-an-amstel. If it's weekend, the restaurants are full and there may be a saxophonist on the square.

And then you go through Ouder-Amstel, by a small canal into Abcoude. This is a small village, very laid back, with restaurants scattered like lilypads around the canal. It's quite close to Amsterdam (15km), and a bike ride here should be on everybody's agenda. Even if you are worried you should get here; there's even a train station should you need it...

Country canals to Brekeulen (15km)

Beyond Abcoude, you go along the canals on Rijksstraatweg. At a pier in Brambrugge, I was setting up the camera, when a mallard decided to take off.

The lively Brekeulen town square.

Maarssen, and the Rhine Canal into Utrecht-Noord

You pass castles like this one, which is now the campus of the Nyenrode management university. Entering Utrecht, you go along the Rijnkanal, which you've crossed earlier near Loenen. You can come all the way along the Rhine canal which is a major shipping channel, but I had been avoiding it a bit, since it's so straight and deserted. But the part leading into Utrecht has a beautiful tree canopy.

Warning: Cows

Remember not to get too near the cows, or they crowd around thinking you've come to feed them!

Your intrepid explorer - in kurta and sunglasses - during a water break at a park near Brekeulen.

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