We ended up spending 8 nights in Utrecht getting our bearings in this new country and exploring the city where we hope to live. We first heard of Utrecht three years ago when the Tour de France started there. It’s a bit difficult from the other side of the world to choose a place to shift to, so it seems like as good a reason as any. After hopping around accommodation for a few nights we settled in an apartment which was a fantastic choice. Food in the supermarket here is much cheaper than eating out, the opposite of what we found in Asia. And we were able to find lots of foods we had been without for months. Cheese! And bread that isn’t sweet with weird salty floss!
We didn’t just stay inside and eat all week (although given the sub freezing temperatures and drizzly rain we could probably be excused for it). We spent a bit of time riding around the university campus and Bryony met with a science contact to have a look around the medical center and talk about potential jobs. We found an awesome bike shop Built by Bikes with workbenches and tools set up so that you can fix your own bike if you know how (and they help you if you can’t). Our middle chain rings were very sharks-toothy after the mountains in northern Thailand so we replaced these to go with the new chains we fitted in Bangkok. Chase, the American guy from the shop is super friendly and shifted to the Netherlands with his wife a few years ago for similar reasons to us (“I like bikes, they like bikes, lets go to the Netherlands”). We went for a ride with him one evening (we thought day time riding was cold…) and met his wife and their adorable, tiny twins at a pub afterwards.
The shock of European prices meant we didn’t do any of the regular tourist activities like visit churches and museums because they all cost money. But we did spend a lot of time walking around the city and getting a feel for the various streets, lanes and parks. It’s a pretty cool place, and coupled with the few friendly people we met we are very keen to return (hopefully with a job). But the job-finding process is a long one, so after a week we got back on the bikes and headed towards Apeldoorn for the track cycling world cup and to meet our friend Lander.
When we could forget the freezing fingers, toes and faces, the ride was actually pretty beautiful. We were in the tail end of Autumn and the leaves on the trees were stunning. Knowing how to read the signs properly meant we spent less time with our gloves off looking at the gps and phones, which was definitely a good thing. But the going was seriously slow, and being below freezing outside for 8 hours was just miserable. It didn’t help that that we spent all morning going up a false flat, adding to the sluggish mood. Bryony’s bike is now lighter than James’ so when she got annoyed that she wasn’t going as fast as previous days she pushed harder, forcing James to really struggle to keep up. We stopped once for a coffee to warm up, but the effort of locking the bikes, unwrapping, defrosting and then putting damp clothes back on, unlocking the bikes and moving again didn’t really make it worthwhile. When we finally rolled the last 3km downhill into Apeldoorn we were physically and mentally exhausted.
We stayed in the hostel again, although this time we had the whole dorm room to ourselves so we could spread out, dry our gear and rest. Again there were no cooking facilities, but bar snacks and soup warmed us and filled us up.
Public transport in the Netherlands is fantastic. In the morning we bought an OV chipkaart which we could top up at machines in the stations (the machines are in English!) and use on all trains, buses and trams in the country. The velodrome was on the opposite side of town to our accommodation and the only way to get there was walk 7km or take the bus. The card meant we didn’t have to explain our lack of Dutch and buy a ticket every time we got on board.
Our friend Lander from Belgium came to join us in Apeldoorn for 2 nights. We first met Lander in New Zealand three years ago while we were hiking around Mt Ruapehu. We met in the first hut and ended up walking together for four days first as a safety measure because of high winds, and then just because we liked each others company. Lander also happened to be cycle touring in New Zealand. He was the first person we’d ever met doing something crazy like that. We thought he was mad when he told us about biking between towns that take a few hours to drive. But he must have planted some kind of seed because we ended up doing just that, and thanks to the internet we managed to see him again.
The four days of track racing were fantastic, and not just because the velodrome was heated. The tickets were great value and much cheaper than in New Zealand last year. Unfortunately for us it was the second world cup of the series, and just after the Olympics, so most teams didn’t bring their A-team. NZ brought a very small team so we didn’t have too much chance to use the flag!