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Touring in Holland 

By Theresa Russell

Note: The author, a seasoned cycling travel writer and frequent contributor to The Bicycle Exchange, is the author of the recently-published guidebook, Bed, Breakfast & Bike Midwest. This book was reviewed in our Spring '01 Feature Articles). She is currently working on a cycling guide to the Yucatan Peninsula.

A country with a multitude of bike paths meandering through the countryside seems like an ideal if not unreal dream for those of us who love to jump on our bikes and discover our surroundings. Yet, such a country does exist and young and old inhabitants of that country use the bicycle by choice as a means of transportation. Holland may well be the best choice for bicycle touring for cyclists at all levels of experience. Rainbows in the field morph into tulips.  Windmills stand sentinel in fields and medieval towns. Castles remind you of a past life and vie for attention along the routes. So many bike paths, so few days. 

Obviously, the well-marked bike paths make cycling a joy, but in addition, it is the proximity of towns along the paths that makes Holland ideal for even the beginning touring cyclist. Families with young children who may not be comfortable with road touring will also feel comfortable riding along these well marked paths.

Unlike North America where towns seem to sprawl out with large distances between each other, Holland is very compact. Several little villages can be found along even a route as short as 37 kilometers, making it quite simple to break a longer trip into easily rideable segments.  Even towns with no major tourist attractions make perfect spots for resting, enjoying a bit of cheese or sampling some of the offerings at the genever bar.

Planning the trip requires no great skill as AWNB (//www.anwb.nl/city/fietsen.htm) puts out maps, which show the bike paths through the country. Local tourist boards (VVV) often have maps, either free or very inexpensive, of the local area and the representatives there happily suggest routes with special attractions along the way. After all, this is a place where everybody bikes and finding cycling information is simple.  Imagine that! 

The most difficult part of planning your tour of Holland will be deciding which path to take. If you aren’t keen on touring with gear, an excellent option is to base yourself in one locale and doing loops from there. More adventurous types who just love to go and bike, with no specific destination in mind, could simply follow the fietspads on a whim. They all connect and eventually lead somewhere.

Holland’s flat terrain makes it unnecessary to bring a multiple speed bike and it might be more practical to rent one of the simple bikes that most of the Dutch use to get around. The bikes usually have a rack on the rear and you will notice that many of the Dutch have saddle bags attached to the rack for transporting whatever they may need.  n the other hand, if you do go to the Limburg area, remember that the terrain does present some challenges, as it can be quite hilly in certain areas. One rather hilly area is that near Valkenburg. To avoid those hills, you should consider going biking in a cave.

Definitely an activity for the family, this particular tour is lead by an experienced guide who knows the way through the vast underground network. The temperature is perfect and the experience is one that you won’t likely forget. In addition to the cave biking you might also opt for an interactive cave walking tour or a tour by quad. The combination of the walking and the biking involve about a half a day. 

Back in the big city, Amsterdam, you may choose to ride your bike throughout the congested streets and alongside the trolley cars. But, another “biking” option exists on the canals of the city. The bike boats as they are known, might remind you of the old pedal cars you had as a kid.  Simply put, they are really paddleboats, which will give you the same work out and use the same muscles as a bike ride on terra firma. With several different liveries along the way, the bikes can be hired at and dropped off at one of four locations giving you plenty of time to pedal through the picturesque canals that make up the city. Old canal houses, charming houseboats and quaint buildings line the canal. 

Whatever area or whatever type of biking your choose, you can be sure of a memorable experience. And, if you need a companion, be sure to call me. 

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