Friday, 15 January 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands - Part Four: Utrecht to Amsterdam

I'd been in Utrecht for nearly 48 hours and had seen some truly extraordinary infrastructure projects and cycled on some marvelous routes. It had been quite a sight to see the remains of a motorway which, at the time, was being turned into a canal (now partially complete), the huge amount of cycle parking at the train station (soon to be greatly increased) and the amount of people cycling along the main roads in the city centre, including children of a very young age, safely separated from buses. I had visited the University area on the edge of the city and was amazed at the width of some of the cycle tracks. I had cycled out to Houten and had almost been speechless as I was riding around it. If anything I'd actually spent too much time on the bike and had only really ventured into the streets and squares along Oudengracht on foot after dark. I will revisit the city soon so will ensure I take time out to explore it in more detail next time. However it was now Friday morning and time to leave for Amsterdam. I spent the first hour of my day cycling from the train station to Neude square, taking a few photos and then cycling back to the station again to take more photos of people alongside the railway station and then repeating this process a couple of times. Being part of "the swarm" of people on bikes along Vrendenburg at rush hour in Utecht is an exhilarating feeling!

I began my journey out of Utrecht towards Amsterdam on, appropriately, a street named Amsterdamsestraatweg. The first section of this road had lovely recently reconstructed cycle tracks and provision for people walking so I briefly stopped to take a few photos and post a couple of tweets
I'd cycled along this road a couple of days earlier with Mark Wagenbuur who had said he thought the conditions on Amsterdamsestraatweg could be applied on any high street in the UK. As I rode the entire length of the street and took a good look I had to agree with him. This is a really lovely street and has perfect conditions for people to safely cycle, no matter what their age or ability, as well as a much better arrangement for people walking than can be found on most non pedestrianised high streets in the UK. The bus stop bypasses do not discriminate against disabled people as some claim; if disabled people are allowed to use the cycle infrastructure then it makes it easier to get about the city, let's hope people in wheelchairs or mobility scooters are sensibly allowed to make use of the superhighways in London that are due for completion later this year.


As I travelled further out of the city the shops began to be replaced by housing but the cycle track remained in place throughout. On the outskirts of the city the road space available narrowed and so there was just a kerb separating from the road with very little "buffer zone" but still this was fine. I then crossed over the Amsterdam - Rhine canal, on a bridge which had cycle tracks on either side of it, and then a sharp descent onto the cycle street below with thankfully no annoying barriers designed to slow me down. This route along the canal started very close to Maarssen train station, which had ample and easy to access bike parking, and continued in a straight line as far as the eye could see.


This was a lovely, smooth and quiet route with virtually no motor traffic on it at all but I must admit after a while I started to find it a bit boring. As I said, perfectly pleasant, I just found it a little bit dull cycling in a flat straight road, although some of the boats that passed were interesting looking. I wished I could have swapped my Dutch bike for my road bike and got a decent pace going, just for a while. As I passed through Breukelen I bypassed the various junctions on a nice and smooth two way track, which lead me onto a not as smooth cycle track for the rest of my journey along the canal. It was good enough for several roadies to use though and kept me safely separated from motor vehicles. In order to get to Amsterdam it was time for me to turn away from the canal and head west along a bicycle road through a field, which essentially looked very much like a British country lane but without the motor traffic taking all available space forcing anyone cycling into the bushes as they speed down it at 60mph. This road continued north alongside the railway line where I came across a delightful sight of a lady riding a cargo bike with three young children on board, which seemed a bit of a surreal thing to see here in a field miles from any urban area.


After exchanging some "Hey!"'s with the kids in the box bike I continued onto another bicycle road towards Abcoude station which must only be a few years old as it is still just grass on google street view.


This continued into the station car park, which of course had generous bike parking, just like at every train station in the Netherlands. I carried on alongside the railway, through a charming little park (with ample cycle parking) and then an odd elevated route through a golf course where I looked down onto people playing a few rounds, and then around the edge of the course with a tall fence so I was protected from motor vehicles to my right and any stray golf balls from my left. I then suddenly found myself in car central; KFC, Burger King and "Sizzling Wok" drive through eateries alongside me, two very wide and busy roads with several lanes of traffic, industrial estates, car dealerships and a large amount of car parking. Whilst this would have been a hellish place to cycle in the UK here I was supplied by very attractive smooth cycle tracks and crossings, including a dedicated nice wide cycle bridge over the motorway. I then followed a narrow road (which was a through route for bicycles but filtered to motor traffic) which turned into a bicycle road and continued towards Amsterdam alongside the motorway


I then crossed the river Amstel and cycled through Amstelpark. It had until now (apart from the small section past the burger and chicken drive thru's) felt like I was still in the countryside as whilst I had been cycling through the suburbs I had been guided along pleasant, green non-built up areas. As I exited Amstelpark into Amsterdam Zuid it came as a bit of a shock to suddenly go from a tranquil countryside vibe to cycling alongside a very wide road next to Amsterdam RAI railway station. In the space of about 30 seconds the sounds of wildlife had been replaced by car horns and the general hustle and bustle of city life. This briefly disappeared as I cycled through Beatrixpark only to return again once I exited where, it being lunchtime, I was again greeted with the sight of many children on bikes. I then followed some smooth cycle tracks, some not so smooth cycle tracks and some bloody awful paint along main roads into the centre of Amsterdam. In less than 20 minutes I had gone from the countryside to cycling along Van Barlenstraat in the very heart of the city, admiring Rijkmuseum in the distance. As it takes such a short amount of time to travel from the edge of the city to the centre by bike I do wonder why anyone bothers with those scooters at all.

Distance: Approx 40km /  25 miles
Time: Approx three hours
Photos taken: 340
Map of the route
Gallery:  39 photos here

Next Post: Cycling from Amsterdam to Hook of Holland via The Hague

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Great piece! Really enjoy reading how much you appreciate cycling in The Netherlands. Sometimes I feel we Dutch people undervalue this. We don't know how lucky we are. That's also why I like your finale sentence. Those scooters are so annoying. Why not take the bike, it's so easy!

Ralph said...

Nice series about your trip and infrastructure. My wife and I had the pleasure of travelling through Holland a few years ago. Starting in Arnhem and heading to Amsterdam. Made it half way to Amsterdam the first day so headed up the east coast are of the big lakes. Great cycling, took the ferry back across and down through Hoorn.

The best thing was the Visitor Centers. VVV. THey were open 6 days a week and we acquired most of our lodging in the small towns trough them. Wonderful trip. We were self supported and the only problem was the Sunday lodging but we were in Hoorn so there were places to stay.