Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands - Part Five: Amsterdam to Hook of Holland via The Hague

I spent the first two hours of Monday morning enjoying cycling on very busy roads in the centre of Amsterdam, something which was safe and completely stress free; a world away from cycling during the Monday morning rush hour in London. Which was ironic as I was supposed to be cycling during the Monday morning rush hour in London but thanks to Stena Line I had an extra day in the Netherlands as their Sunday evening sailing was completely sold out. After discovering this I originally planned to spend Sunday night halfway between Amsterdam and the ferry port but after failing to find accommodation in either Leiden or Katwijk I decided to spend Sunday night in Amsterdam instead. Cycling between Amsterdam and Hook of Holland was a journey I had made four times previously so instead of taking the popular (and very pleasant) route along the North sea I opted instead to stay inland to experience more of the urban cycle infrastructure.

Following the rush hour I stopped off for breakfast and to buy some clogs, magnets and other crappy tourist gifts for people back home from the Albert Cuyp market in De Pijp. I then set off for England at about 11.00am and started my journey by cycling through Vondelpark, which was nowhere near as busy as it had been when I was in it a day earlier on a fairly warm Sunday afternoon but it was still busy with people going about their day, mostly on bikes.


I crossed over Amstelveenseweg, along a bicycle road and onto a road that had been made two way for bikes in order to accommodate a two way cycle track. I had cycled along here quite a few times to get back to the apartment I was staying at and normally turned right into Rembrandtpark but instead turned left where the track continued before I was lead onto a normal looking Dutch residential road.  After a short distance I turned right onto a main road which had a nice smooth cycle track, leading me under the ring road and had some nice examples of continuous cycle tracks and pavements past the side roads. I also stopped to take a picture of the lampposts, as you do. As I came to the end of this road there was a narrow bridge over the canal so motor vehicles were held at traffic lights in three locations in order to create space for cycle lanes. People driving here are regularly delayed in order to create an environment which ensures everyone, from primary school age to pension age can safely cycle over this bridge. I turned right and cycled alongside the canal on painted cycle lanes, this road was generally fine to ride along but having checked historical street view to see that this layout is only a few years old it is a shame they were not a bit more ambitious here, perhaps by creating a two way cycle track along the canal where the car parking is.


The motor traffic wasn't fast along here but I would have preferred to have been further away from the lorries. Turning south away from the canal and I was thankful to be back on a two way cycle track alongside the road. I passed along the very end of one of Schiphol Airports six runways and it was REALLY LOUD here as the planes took off directly above me. After I passed under the taxiway for one of the runways I briefly stopped and was hoping to get a plane, a bike, a motor vehicle and a boat all in one shot but could only manage one out of four

After a few miles I entered the town of Hoofddorp and at this point the two way cycle track gave way to painted cycle lanes again. I used an attractive looking roundabout and the smooth, clean and very new looking infrastructure was a dead give-away that this junction must have been recently upgraded. Sure enough another visit of the historical images on Google Maps streetview feature shows how much of an improvement this junction is compared to the crap paint that was there before.


Using this roundabout gave me a chance to hop over to the other side of the canal where I used filtered roads, bicycle roads, quiet residential streets and painted cycle lanes before retreating back to the cycle track on the other side of the canal again. It was nice to have different options! I then entered the town of Nieuw-Vennep where, it being lunchtime, I saw a few children cycling around the town. I was surprised to see this small town had a fairly large shopping centre, probably about the same size as the Kingsland shopping Centre in Dalston, but I was pleased to see it as it was time for lunch. There was an unfortunate incident in the Jumbo supermarket inside this shopping centre as I didn't realise that when you buy a banana in the Netherlands you have to weigh it and print off a barcode before taking it to the till. As the lady on the checkout could not speak English this turned into quite a drama although I was thankfully saved by several of my fellow English speaking shoppers who politely guided me through the banana buying process despite me having already delaying their day. I stood outside the shopping centre for a short while and watched the various people coming and going by bike, most were either elderly or middle aged ladies, it being the middle of the day. I was not looking forward to returning to the UK as I had become accustomed to comfortably cycling wherever I wanted to go in complete safety. I thought of what a shopping centre like this would be like in a similar town close to Heathrow Airport and how everything would be centred around the car. The construction of the cycle tracks that are currently taking place in Central London is a very good start to enabling people of all ages and abilities to feel they can take up cycling, and all very long overdue, but boy do we have a long way to go if we want to see cycling being anywhere near as attractive as it is here in all corners of the Netherlands.

I continued south along cycle tracks that kept switching between tiles and tarmac until I reached the A44 where I was on a pretty poor shared pavement. I needed to get to the other side of the canal to access a cycle track alongside the A44 to take me to the coast but there was no specific cycle infrastructure and therefore for roughly half a kilometre I had to cycle on the road. Where the cars go. Despite living in London and only being outside of the country for a week this seemed like a very odd experience all of a sudden! However having seen what I had seen over the previous week I am confident that this situation will, at some point in the future, be changed and I'm sure I'll return to this spot to use an outstanding cycling and walking only bridge over the canal one day. Thankfully a decent enough cycle track did reappear alongside the A44 where I came across a long queue of stationary traffic as the bridge ahead of us was open to allow several tall ships to pass through. I turned off shortly afterwards to head up to the North Sea, a fairly uneventful five mile journey to the seaside town of Noordwijk along some lovely smooth cycle tracks that were all being heavily used, despite the very rural location.


As I entered Noordwijk I saw my first cycle bin of the day and took great pleasure in flinging the banana skin that had earlier caused such a commotion in Jumbo to the back of it. I cycled along the seafront, a journey I had made several times before, the last time I was here it was a very hot summers day and the beach was packed, less so on a Monday afternoon in late September but I still think this is a very pleasant part of the Netherlands and would be a good base for a holiday, should you enjoy beaches and cycling. Next up is normally the most enjoyable section of the journey: through the sand dunes, cycling up hill, then down hill and zig-zagging along with the sea air filing your lungs as you speed along. On the previous occasions I was here I had loved this section of the journey but that was when I was on my road bike and dressed in lycra, this time I was on my very heavy Dutch bike and I was wearing jeans and a hoody. I had also cycled almost continually, all day, every day, for the last 8 days so I was pretty tired by this point and was in a bit of pain so spent most of my time concentrating more on which part of my buttocks I should put pressure on next. I passed through the town of Katwijk and then many more miles of cycling up and down sand dunes; a very lovely activity in a wonderful landscape but I wish I'd have had a bit more energy to be able to fully enjoy it.


Back in 2009, when I had cycled from Amsterdam down to Hook of Holland for the first time, as we reached the outskirts of  The Hague much earlier than we had expected we detoured into the centre of the city just to have a look at what it was like. Following a cycle journey on some pretty busy roads with no cycle infrastructure and a pretty dull area near to the railway station we concluded that it wasn't really all that and quickly exited back to the seaside. As I was back in the area I had decided to give it a second chance and also an opportunity to experience the Monday evening rush hour in the city before heading to the ferry port. My first impressions of the city were, once again, not good as I used some rubbish cycle tracks and then a really rubbish road with no cycle provision on it whatsoever; it was like being back in the UK. Things improved slightly as I navigated a very nice roundabout, a design which I had got used to here and it is interesting to see how it has been upgraded from something that was very British looking - crossroads and an ASL, something which a certain local cycling group is still campaigning for in my part of London!


The rest of the journey to Centraal station was quite nice; along smooth, recently upgraded cycle tracks and then the main train station had changed a lot since I was last here, a definite improvement. I cycled along the main shopping street, a street which is pedestrianized but has clear space for people cycling and wondered if a similar treatment could be applied to a pedestrianized Oxford Street or even The Narroway in Hackney, but on a smaller scale.


I had planned to spend the rush hour cycling around the city and, as it was just approaching 5pm this was perfect timing, however I was absolutely exhausted and was not in the mood for more city infrastructure sightseeing. I could see on the map on my phone that the area to the south of my position was Chinatown; the thought of a Chinese really appealed to me at that moment in time and I promptly loading up calories at the first Chinese restaurant I could find. Stupidly I hadn't really put any research into my journey out of the city at all as I wasn't sure where I would end up so just picked a random main road to the south of the railway station. The journey to that road was awful as it had no cycling infrastructure on it whatsoever and I was about an inch away from being taken out by bus at one point; in my tired, confused state of mind I started to question weather I was actually still in the Netherlands at all. The next road was just as bad as I had to inch my way through gaps in queues of motor traffic; it was basically like being back in London and cycling along Hackney Road. Things improved slightly for a while in the form of some actual cycle lanes again, having almost forgotten what they looked like, and then improved much more as cycle tracks finally returned as I cycled alongside Zuiderpark. Turning left to the the road I was back on cycle lanes for a short while and then on smooth cycle tracks alongside busy roads but also through some pleasant areas until I exited the city. I was glad to leave; I'd tried to give "Den Haag" another visit but had left disappointed once again, I can't see myself returning here again on any future visits. As planned I followed a main road through the countryside and was accommodated almost entirely on tiled cycle tracks, which were not too bad but I really could have done with a smooth bicycle road and was seriously regretting my decision not to take the route alongside the North Sea. The rest of the journey was a mixture of these types of cycle tracks and painted cycle lanes between thousands of acres of greenhouses before I would change my course and finally head to a bicycle road instead of the main road I had plotted my course to the ferry port on.


In hindsight I should have stuck to the North Sea route and skipped visiting The Hague altogether, perhaps instead staying in Amsterdam until later in the day or instead visiting somewhere else nearby for lunch where I had not visited before, such as Haarlem. I had not enjoyed the last few hours of my time in the country but only because I had been comparing it to other parts of the Netherlands that I had visited over the previous week. I would be brought back to Earth the following morning after I stepped off the train at Stratford to cycle back to work through East London, there were absolutely no roads in the Netherlands I had used that were as bad as this. I'd only been away for a week but it was a real shock to the system and I would spend the next few days tutting at almost every road layout I came across before slowly just getting used to the normality of the terrible roads of London.

As I've tried to show in these posts and as you can see elsewhere the Netherlands has changed a lot over the past few decades and has continually improved their roads for people walking and cycling to be able to safely use them. London is also slowly changing and the benefits to our society will be enormous.

Distance: Approx 90km / 55  miles
Time: Approx eight hours
Photos taken: 650
Map of the route Nope, after two hours of trying this in google maps I have given up.
Gallery:  59 photos here

Previous posts:

Part One - Hook of Holland to Rotterdam / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Two - Rotterdam to Gouda via Delft / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Three - Gouda to Utrecht / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Four - Utrecht to Amsterdam / Photo Gallery of this journey


2 comments:

Ronald van Raaij said...

Nice trip, but next time try to use the cycle junction network ( See: http://www.hollandcyclingroutes.com/cycling-daytrips ) This is especially designed to lead cyclists through scenic and safe routes from junction to junction, and you can devise your own route via the maps displayed at every junction.

Ethan said...

You may not have had the best route going through the Hague but it was informative for me! Thanks for this little series.