Our last days of European cycling (for now)

We rugged up again and set off early from Oostende with about 80km ahead of us. We wouldn’t have thought twice about that distance in Asia, but at our European pace it was going to be a long day. The ride along the coast should have been beautiful, but the Belgians have built row upon row of ugly apartments along the beach front and the road usually goes behind these. At one point we were able to ride along the front, but being the shutters were closed on most of the apartments, there was no one around and the “for sale” signs everywhere gave the whole place a lonely, ghostly feel. The moody grey skies and thin wind didn’t help either.

At least the navigation wasn’t too difficult, and for most of the day we were on a separated cycling path, following the Nord Zee cycle route. After another cold lunch of sandwiches eaten sheltered in a deserted bus stop we crossed back into the Netherlands. All of a sudden we had wide open spaces again, and the sign posting on the cycle paths improved. We rode through the low-land farms and it seemed to be sweed harvesting time as there were huge piles all along the road side. In the middle of the afternoon we pulled up at the ferry terminal and waited to board across to Vlissengen. The ferry terminal had a ramp for riding the bikes on and beneath the passenger level were rails with rope to tie the bikes on.

We warmed up on the short ride over and after a few confused circles trying to work out how to get out of Vlissengen and towards Domburg we made it out of town. Again it was simple following the bike path signs – now that we know to trust them navigation is much easier. The sun started to set at about 4.30 and for the last hour we were treated to a spectacular sunset. It was pitch black by the time we arrived in Domburg. This is a seaside touristy town, so we were able to get a super cheap hotel because of the time of the year. It was a cute space and had a microwave so we could heat up some dinner. Unfortunately because it was dark when we arrived we didn’t get a chance to see the village, it seems like it would be a nice place with lots of bars to sit outside with a beer in the summer. We spent the evening in the hotels cozy self-service bar to stay warm.

to-domburg-sunset

In the morning we were treated to our best free breakfast with a huge selection of meats, cheeses, bread and eggs cooked for you however you like. Oh and museli, juices and champagne. When we went to check out they wouldn’t even let us pay for the beers we’d had the night before.

After 15km of riding through forests and on the wrong side of the sand dunes (we did have an attempt to ride on a path in the sand dunes, but concluded that it was not for bicycles) we hit the first really big bridge in Zeeland. We chose this route for a couple of reasons – firstly because it is the namesake of New Zealand so we had to check it out at some point, and secondly because it was used as a route in the 2015 Tour de France and the cross winds wreaked havoc in the peloton. It was definitely beautiful, and in parts the scenery reminded us lots of home. Luckily for us we were riding with the wind and were able to fly along the exposed sections beneath the enormous windmills. The sky was blue all day, which coupled with the tailwind made a huge difference to our mood and we were smiling when we pulled up to Jeannette’s house (an air b&b find) in Stellendam.

Jeannette was super friendly and treated us to coffee and homemade cake while we talked about our travels and life in Zeeland. Stellendam is a very small, quiet town and there wasn’t much going on during our walk to the supermarket. Jeannette doesn’t get too many people staying in the winter, but it is popular in the summer for people with their own transport.

to-stellendam-windmill

We started early for our last day of touring, determined to make Den Haag before dark. Studying the map James spotted a ferry we could take to Hook Van Holland and save us around 20km. Unfortunately he didn’t look to see that we couldn’t get directly to the ferry terminal and had to ride 17km around a huge industrial shipping yard, or that because it was winter the ferry doesn’t run from 10am-3pm. So when we arrived at lunchtime battered by the wind we faced a 2 hour wait for the next ferry. We didn’t really have a choice as backtracking meant another 60km to ride before dark. So we hunkered down in another bus shelter in the deserted yard and waited.

Finally the ferry arrived and we could warm up inside for the short trip before the last 15km to Den Haag. The ride along the beach along the sand dunes was beautiful, if not always direct. We forced ourselves to stop for photos and enjoyed another brilliant sunset. If there is an upside to being out after dark, it is the sunsets. Before too long we were navigating in the dark through Den Haag and back to Luna’s house again.

to-den-haag-sunset

Our four weeks of European cycle touring gave us a taste, and we definitely want to do more touring here! The abundance of bread, cheese and beer suits us well and we look forward to the summer. Hopefully with our camping gear we can be a bit more self sustained so it won’t cost us an arm and a leg, and longer daylight hours should leave more time for exploring. But for the meantime we gave the bikes a good scrub in Luna’s yard and tucked them away in her shed to be retrieved when it warms up a bit!

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