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Bikes, Boats, and Boogie. An introduction to The Netherlands.

(Wooden) Tulips from Amsterdam!  
Recently, at the behest of my good friend Wilco Voulon, I headed off the The Netherlands for a long weekend.
Strangely, considering it is one of our nearest neighbours, it was to be my first trip there.
It’s not that it wasn’t on my list of places to visit but because I had never really gotten around to it.
During our recent trip to Nepal Wilco had invited me to visit them during the weekend of The Fusion of Dance festival, held in his home town of Zwolle; about an hour or so east of Amsterdam.
So I took up his kind invitation and arranged a flight with BMI Baby from East Midlands Airport (Nottingham-EMA) to Schiphol (Amsterdam). Originally I had planned to fly on the Saturday morning and return on Monday morning. Luckily for me BMI had to cancel the Saturday flight and I was offered alternative routes. I decided to take advantage of this and rearranged my flights, free of any charges, so that I could fly on Friday morning and return on Monday night; thus giving me an extended visit.
As usual I breezed through the security checks in a few minutes. That’s the advantage of only having carry-on luggage (my trusty Osprey Atmos 35) and the now simple & efficient option of on-line check-in. Also East Midlands is a small provincial airport and passenger traffic tends to be fairly light.
A pleasant 7.05am flight landed me at Schiphol at 09.05am (with the one hour time difference) and I had a long walk through the airport. This surprised me for some reason as I was, kind of, expecting it to be small like EMA. I don’t why I had this notion in my head because Amsterdam is a major international hub and a big airport!
Everything was well signed and I found the ticket desk for the trains very easily. Purchasing my ticket for Zwolle via Amsterdam was equally simple and the clerk printed me off an intinerary of train times that I could use, including transfers and platform numbers. Excellent really. Travelling in Europe is very easy these days with the excellent transport networks, English tends to be widely spoken in most facilities, and the Euro makes for an easy transition from the Pound.
I jumped on the next available train a few minutes later and was deposited promptly at Amsterdam Centraal station in no time at all.
What a cool place! I loved Amsterdam and The Netherlands from the moment I stepped off the train.

It had that buzz about it that you only get at the truly international cities. A vibrancy that makes it instantly interesting. People swarmed around the station and across bridges into the city. The buildings in this part of the town (Centrum) were beautiful everywhere I looked. The station itself was a great example of the grandiose architecture all around me. And canals! I expected the canals. They seemed to head off in every direction, serene avenues of calm amongst the maelstrom.

The very striking Amsterdam Centraal station.

The thing that really struck me though was the bikes. Not tens of them, or hundreds; THOUSANDS! Everywhere in the city stands row after sentinel row of bicycles; shoehorned into any available space. Not a bridge nor railing was spared. I loved it. I loved the way that bicycle culture dominated the city; even more so than it’s famous canals and infamous coffee bars. It’s long been my opinion that the best way to navigate the cities is by bicycle and nowhere does it better than Amsterdam. Dedicated cycle lanes disect the city and make whizzing around a pleasurable process; it seems that motorised vehicles are the second-class citizens here in Holland. The bike is King. Long live the King!


And so I decided to join in. Why wouldn’t I? A self confessed bike-aholic. I didn’t have to look far before I found myself a reputable looking outlet; I parted with a small deposit and was directed a few hundred metres around the corner to the HotelScooters place on Spui Street. I paid the remaining balance and the operator took my passport details, for security, before furnishing me with a handsome example of the classic Dutch bike. They look as though they were designed 50 years ago and that nothing much has changed. I guess in a country with no hills and a comprehensive cycle network not much really has changed. You certainly don’t need the 30 gears that my mountain bikes are armed with. In fact the simple three gear arrangement was perfectly suitable and I had a blast buzzing around the streets with the wind in my hair and that taste of freedom that cycling around the traffic jams brings you. They are classic sit-up & beg machines, they look a little ungainly but they are perfectly comfortable and are designed so well for their environment that I suppose they haven’t needed to change for 50 years. Why would they? Mine was wonderful to ride and I really didn’t want to take it back.

Odd looking but surprisingly good fun. (I am talking about the bike!)

I had a really fun few hours. I went off to visit the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum’s; unfortunately it was a holiday weekend in Holland and people were queing down the streets. I tried my luck at the Anne Franks house but with the same result. So I decided to save them for another time. An excuse, if ever I needed one, to return. Instead I did what I like to do best; I got lost. I took off and followed my nose around the city enjoying the liberty of not knowing. Enjoying the surprises of not knowing. Enjoying the place as I found it. And I did enjoy it. I watched boats chugging up & down the waterways. I watched people in the squares and open spaces. And I revelled in the space. Holland has a remarkable feeling of space that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because there are no hills? The streets & avenues are wide and welcoming. The canals and low-rise biuldings add another dimension of space, opening up the cityscape even more. It felt very strange, in a nice way, to have this feeling of so much space in a city. The sun did it’s best to shine for me all day and I’d enjoyed every minute.
The city was in a busy mood with people everywhere shopping, working, relaxing in the open spaces, and sightseeing. I passed by the National Monument and the Heineken Brewery, paused at the imposing statue of Rembrandt, and took a light lunch at a street side cafe; then headed back to the hire shop to return my bike before jumping on the train bound for Zwolle.

The lovely open space between the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum’s.

Wilco collected me from the railway station a few minutes after I disembarked and took me on a short tour; we called to see his Father and a couple of friends and then made our way to his house where I was introduced to his lovely partner Sylvia and the two children; Ruby & Gwyn.
In the evening we went to a birthday party at a friends house and I met several of my companions for next years Trek and The Hillary-Tenzing Everest Marathon. We had a nice evening and by the time we got back back to Wilco’s home I was ready for bed; it had been a long day. I had travelled straight off of a 12 hour nightshift and had only grabbed a few minutes of sleep in 36 hours!
Saturday dawned much the same as Friday; warm and sunny. Perfect for a day of outdoor raving at The Fusion of Dance. Slowly friends gathered at the house and by 1.00pm we were all mounted on fine Dutch bicycles and heading for the festival. How cool was that? Going to a dance festival on bicycles! And just to confirm that it is a way of life in The Netherlands they had a special bicycle park almost as big as the car park. So we headed for the entrance, Wilco, Sylvia, Nico, Joyce, Marjanne, Linda, Karin and me. We passed through the security checks and into a lush green park filled with tree’s, lakes, stages, sunshine and thousands of other revellers.

Heading for Fusion of Dance, Zwolle.

We had a relaxed afternoon wandering around the various stages, enjoying the sunshine, eating, and dancing. It had a great atmosphere and the music ranged from mainstream dance through to Techno, Trance and Hard Style. Some of the stages were fantastic; one was even constructed as a huge helicopter complete with functioning rotors! By the evening we were firmly ensconced in the trance tent; the set by Alex M.O.R.P.H. was amazing and I had my arms in the air for the whole hour! Time whizzed by and before we knew it it was time to get on our bikes again and head for home. My favourite part of the whole day was when Sylvia produced a bag of Chupa Chups lollipops miraculously from her handbag! Everyone jumped for joy and we all stood around, looking like the proverbial cats that got the cream, sucking away on our delightful bounty. Next time I go to a music festival I’m going to make sure that I have a bag of those little sweet wonders tucked away somewhere 🙂 Perfect!

The amazing helicopter stage!

A few of our companions peeled of to their own homes and a few of us ended up back at Wilco’s socialising and chatting into the small hours.

Sunday obviously saw a late start after the late night. Wilco and I took a drive out of the city to visit a friend of his at Kartplaza; a multi-activity centre. They had just installed a new facility with overhead rope climbing activities, a couple of climbing walls, archery etc. to go with their already popular Laser Quest, Paintball, Go-Karting and Bowling centres. I had fun trying out all the new features; it was similar to the Go-Ape centres we have the UK.

Enjoying the climbing wall at Kartplaza.

In the evening Wilco, Sylvia, Ruby, Gwyn and I headed in to Zwolle for a meal at the Irish Pub, which was excellent, I was served a huge rack of ribs and they were delicious. After which we all wandered through the old part of town and Wilco showed me one of his favourite fishing spots on the river, right in the centre of town. We bought heavenly Ice-cream from a parlour near the to old city wall and sat around in the evening sunshine to enjoy it.

Enjoying lovely ice cream in a lovely part of the town.

That night as I got in to bed a huge storm was brewing and it crashed & howled, and rained, for perhaps an hour or more. I lay listening to it for a while before drifting off to sleep.
On Monday morning Wilco had an appointment with a potential new client and I took the opportunity to hitch a lift in to town with him; so that I could explore this beautiful place a little more.
Zwolle, like Amsterdam, has a real feeling of open space. In the centre it too has many beautiful old buildings and the river and the canals thread their way through it giving it a pleasant air. Monday in The Netherlands is a late start for many people, most of the shops open around midday, and so it was strangely quiet. I had expected it to be thronged with people going about their daily lives but it felt more like a Sunday morning with everyone easing sleepily in to the working week. I think Monday should be a late start everywhere; just imagine how much happier people would be if they didn’t have to go in to work until lunchtime… !

Zwolle. Beautiful.

In the heart of the city. Stunning.

What surprises me most about Zwolle is that it is well off the regular tourist trail. Such a warm and lovely place should be visited and enjoyed more often. If you are ever passing by I would suggest that you don’t pass it by! Make it a part of your itinerary and pause here for a day or two to enjoy the place and relax for a while. It really is a lovely place.
Wilco, Sylvia and I took a late lunch at a little deli place close to his house before I had to start thinking about catching a train back to Shiphol. And so I bade farewell to my friends, thanked them for having me as their guest for the weekend, and boarded the train bound once again for Amsterdam.
I arrived early at the airport and as I browsed through magazines at the news-stand I spotted a copy of the German “Bike” magazine. I couldn’t believe my luck. One of their senior journalists, a very nice guy called Henri Lesewitz, had been a competitor in The Yak Attack and had written an eight page article chronicling the whole experience. I don’t understand a word of German but I still enjoyed looking at his photographs and reliving the event in my mind during my flight home. The icing on a particularly enjoyable cake 🙂 And I haven’t even told you about Wilco’s amazing coffee maker… I drank so much I’m surprised that I could even sleep for a week!
I can’t wait to go back.

Images of Amsterdam

I enjoyed a fine breakfast of good coffee and a very splendid muffin in Amsterdam.

These places were very popular with a certain type of tourist!

The palace in Dam Square.

Me too!

Images of Zwolle

At the old city gate, Zwolle.

Amazing bicycles everywhere.

That’s a big one!

All the gang chilling at Fusion of Dance.

Wilco looking very pleased with his lollipop!

The Lip Gloss stage.

Enjoying a bit of Alex M.O.R.P.H. in the trance tent.

Marjanne, Wilco, Linda.

Thank you for looking. See you soon! 🙂

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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