The Netherlands has something of the Midas Touch for cycling. Off the ferry the wide cycle paths of smooth flat tarmac stretch out in all directions. Every turn leads to perfect cycling condition and lanes with right of way. Even the hills prostrate themselves for the bicycle. Once the relief of easy riding conditions has worn off, the realisation hits that you miss the hills, and the adrenaline of lorries zooming past. You miss the fight for your space on the road. In The Netherlands there is no fight, the cars tip toe round you and there is nothing to interrupt your rhythm as you pedal on. I found myself changing gear out of boredom, starved of variety. The flat landscape also does nothing to halt the wind which blew briskly in my face for my last two days of riding.
Dutch cyclists seem to glide around elegantly, powering their way through the wind in a phenomenally high gear compared to my frantic peddling. At one point I spotted an elder gentleman, sat upright in his saddle, brown shell suit catching the headwind like a sail. I assumed this pensioner would be simple to catch and overtake yet as I ducked down to streamline myself for the pursuit the stubborn gap failed to shorten. I powered on, determined to catch the man who’s legs, one assumed, must be hard as iron to power himself, sail and all, through the strong headwind. I was mesmerized by the man who was the focus of my attention for quite some time. After 20 minutes of straining I caught up with the flying Dutchman who, much to my relief, revealed his secret, clicking off his electric bike as he turned off the road to his house.
Again I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers. My first night was spent with a lovely child psychologist called Josephine in the lovely Utrecht. My last two nights were with the very thoughtful Joost, a tax advisor, who has shown me the sights of Arnhem and drunk beer with me by the Rhine. He even managed to get me on a bike when I was meant to be resting my legs. Its interesting to hear the same political discussions in newspapers here as in the UK, with the rise of anti-EU parties quickly capturing a significant minority of votes. The same xenophobia of foreign workers taking jobs and stigma of the jobless who don’t work hard enough. Tomorrow I will leave the Netherlands for Germany and a new stranger offering me a couch.