Taking a break in Leiden

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

I took a 5 minute break on my way to the airport in Hyde park to pay my respects to my grandfather and the other fallen soldiers - given it was ANZAC day it seemed appropriate to thank those that provided the freedom that New Zealanders have today - of which I seem to be making the most of!  However, I literally did stop to say a quick thanks, pay my respects and I was back into the central London traffic - I was on a mission to get to Gatwick airport with a fully laden bike and the excitement of a new trip ahead of me!

Arriving in Amsterdam was a real relief, friendly helpful people were immediately received well - an instant change from the grizzly, unhelpful people at Gatwick. On that point I have purposely bypassed writing about my experience once arriving at Gatwick, because it wasn't all that much fun and if there's advice that I can provide to anyone - avoid taking a bike out of Gatwick at all costs! Anyway, as I say, arriving in Amsterdam was like pure heaven - I whizzed into the city on the train (was fairly late by the time that I arrived) and found myself a camp site not far from the city center.  I tied my helmet on the back of the bike - with special roads for bikes everywhere, you really don't need to worry about navigating through the traffic. 

The following morning I made tracks and headed for Haarlem - a smallish city out towards the coast.  Leaving Amsterdam was like leaving any city - slum area's on the outskirts, followed by loud smoke puffing factories.  Much of the ride was spent a long side a 6 lane motorway - not exactly the Netherlands that one dreams of, but cities are the same all around the world and it can only be expected.  A nice elderly couple cycled with me for much of the distance, they had cycled in to Amsterdam to drop of their passports to get visa's for a visit to China and were returning home to Haarlem.  Cycling is a real cultural thing here, they cycle not only as a means of getting from A to B but also for fun - bikes bikes and more bikes!  I spent the night in the outskirts of Haarlem - not ideal, but it was ok.  I checked out the local supermarket, picked up some odd looking food (smoothies in a jar??!!) and some fantastic cheese and so I was quiet content for the night.  There's a lot of Moroccans and Turkish people living in Haarlem, some of which seem to be struggling to make ends meet.

From Haarlem I cycled South, in hope of experiencing the Tulip fields in full bloom.  Unfortunately most of the fields have been topped over the past week and I only really got to witness the harvesters slicing the tops off the last of the Tulips as I rode by. Apparently global warming is to blame for a particularly early year in the fields.  In saying that there were still enough flowers in bloom to appreciate what the true beauty would have been maybe even a week ago.

Given the disappointment of mostly missing what the wild had to offer I spent the afternoon at Keukenhof gardens - an incredibly intense experience.  Never have I seen so much natural colour in my entire life and it's truly spectacular.  Admittedly the majority of the patrons were 60+ in age, but I was there soaking up the colour amongst the zimmer frames!

I spent the night at a little place called Noordwijkerhout where a kid tried to help himself to the stuff in my panniers - I have an eagle eye though and as a consequence he left with nothing but an embarrassed red face!  Noordwijkerhout is close to the beach, I kicked the morning off with a coffee at the beach before heading south to Leiden (just north of Den Hague) where I am at the moment (avoiding the mid day sun).  The beach here is nice with white sand and what not but it strikes me that there's very little vegetation in the dunes so as a result the beach looks really naked.  The water looks very brown and I can't say that I'd like to swim there as it also looks like a pretty cold and unforgiving coast line.  In saying that, it's a beautiful hot day - I'm bright red with sun burn.  I will finish this and then head back out to a place called Katwijkse (at the beach) where I intend on finding somewhere to camp in the cool of the evening.  

So, that's it for now - the weather is dazzling, beautiful and hot, the people here are incredibly friendly and helpful, the cycle lanes are outstanding, Keukenhof gardens amazing and the beer and cheese just tops everything off! 
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