We were supposed to be taking the train from Amsterdam to Leiden but early in the afternoon we realised that we had a couple of hours to spare where we either just wander about the red light district a bit more or we make an early start and cycle to Leiden. Incidentally the red light district is quite unbelievable. Aside from the posters advertising what you can do for €5/10/15 and where, there are the ladies of the night who sit behind glass doors reading a book, filing their nails, or just looking bored in their underwear. It reminded me a bit of Coronation Street. I don’t think I saw one that was under the age of 40, and wasn’t desperately ugly. Perhaps the younger and more attractive ladies would have taken a shift later in the night. I suppose it was just after lunch, and the hours work better for someone with s family.
Before we left Amsterdam we saw a woman cycling with a child in a seat perched on the handlebars, another hanging from the pannier rack on the back, reading a newspaper, whilst crossing junctions and fending off trams and pedestrians. Thats a multitasking mother for you.
We set off for Leiden, thinking it couldn’t be more than 40 Km from looking at the map.
First lesson of the cycling holiday: cycle paths can be twice as long as the road between 2 places.
The ride was quite easy at first. It took us along canals, and windmills. All rather picturesque. There is an international cycle route network through Netherlands, Belgium, france and germany called LF routes. These are a cyclists dream; clearly marked, mostly off-road, paved, scenic. They are like a game of pass the parcel, which delivers little presents at each turn.
We first took the LF7 to, then LF2 to Leiden. The map we’d bought didn’t have Amsterdam on it so we were sort of guessing that Amstelveen was close by, it turns out to be about 14km of cycling away. Hmmm
The day was overcast but warm with a slight breeze, almost perfect cycling weather. We’d come prepared and donned our padded cycling shorts (does one wear with or without underwear?), but for the sake of decency had normal looking overshorts. No-one needs to see my wobbly parts, especially wrapped in lycra.
We stopped at several little towns for no more than 5 minutes each. They were all very pretty and we could have happily stopped for longer and had a coffee and something sticky but the clock was ticking. We had left Amsterdam at 3.30 and we expected in Leiden to meet a friend at 6.30.
Something we didn’t really consider was that we would need to cross the canals at several different points by ferry. I had expected these would be akin to chartering a boat or water taxi, and cost a kings ransom. We crossed canals 3 times and it cost us a total of 80cents. It was so cheap I would have considered doing it a few more times for shits and giggles. One ferry appeared to be a main commuter route and although the trip took only slightly more time than it took me to get my camera out and take a photo (much to Haley’s irritation at holding people up), there was a queue of about 15 cars waiting to be whisked across the water.
The countryside is consistently beautiful. Maybe it was a selection effect but there were no rough areas in the towns we passed or rusting trolleys in the canals, or even youths idly shouting abuse at us. When we paused to look at our map, several Dutch passers-by stopped and offered friendly assistance in perfect English. I was slightly alarmed when we stopped at a bike shop to buy an emergency waterproof, that the shopkeeper had never heard of the LF2.
One of the blessings of cycling in Netherlands (in addition to the extremely smiley helpful people) is the flat terrain, but that also means it can be windy. Travelling south on that day, the wind always seemed to be in our faces. To keep our strength up we ate jelly babies 2 at a time. Those little, fat, multicoloured, surprised looking, icons of our childhood were our lembas bread sustaining our spirits.
Haley said to me when we realized it was 7pm and we still had 12km to go, after a particularly windy patch:
“I hate you, I want to die. I have a sore arse, my thighs muscles are solid and there is a baby crying somewhere”
“Have a jelly baby and get back on, look here’s a red one” I said in a comforting tone
She sniffed and said “ok – I think the red ones have fewer E numbers anyway”
And we ploughed on.
We arrived at Leiden after a cycle of just over 60km, slightly before 8pm. Several smug people overtook us on the path into the city. They clearly had gone less than 3 miles but they nonchalantly sauntered past, making us feel ever more knackered.
I was hoping for a sense of triumph when we finally rang Kate’s doorbell (I got the wrong one to start with, apologies to the elderly neighbour with the dirty nets). There was just a feeling of tiredness, relief that we’d made it and not ended up in a ditch and hunger. Hunger and a craving for an ice cold glass of beer.
The end of day one. We really should have done more stretching before and after. And check that we knew how far we would be cycling.