As I twiddled my thumbs on the long, rerouted train ride from Munich to Amsterdam, I realized that there’d now be no way I could do everything I’d planned before the Queen’s Day holiday. My original intention was to quickly drop my luggage off in Amsterdam and head out into the Dutch countryside by bike, making my way slowly to Rotterdam and camping along the way – I’d even re-packed my bags so I could leave the bulk of it in a coin locker, keeping only what I needed for a couple days in the wilderness. But all that was shot.
So in a quick last-minute call, I decided to take the train straight to Rotterdam instead – hopefully I could knock that and the famous Kindijk windmills off my list, and see the Tulip gardens after Queen’s Day concluded. Maybe it’s for the better. After that sleepless night on the train, retiring to a real bed instead of a tent and a sleeping bag was sounding like a better and better idea – and a day of strolling among flowers could be a perfect way to sober myself up after one of Europe’s biggest parties.
I made it to Rotterdam by around 4pm and set off to find a place to stay – which proved much more time-consuming than anticipated. First I spent half an hour trying to find a backpackers’ information desk which turned out to be closed on Tuesdays; then I huffed it across town to a hostel that I confirmed available on HostelWorld, learning on my arrival that a problem with their booking system had misreported the real availability. They did have a bed for me, but it took nearly an hour to get it sorted out – I ended up unpacking and re-packing in 2 different rooms, and carrying a foldable cot up 3 flights of stairs before finally settling in. Something suspicious was definitely going on, as one minute there was no space for me at all, but suddenly I ended up with an entire 6-person dorm to myself.
Whatever. It was a GREAT night’s sleep, and I really needed it.
Since it took so long to arrive and get settled, I didn’t feel much like going out to explore – so I just grabbed a couple of beers and spent the evening chatting with two Slovenian backpackers in the hostel lounge. One of them was a mathematician, which I thought was pretty cool. I think she’s the first female mathematician I’ve ever met 🙂
At one point during the evening a radio show host came in with a huge mic and interviewed us on our impressions of Rotterdam, specifically with regards to a Newsweek article I’d just happened to flip through the day before leaving the US. It mentioned Rotterdam on a list of places that are disappearing – apparently the entire city is sinking.
The next morning I gathered up my things and switched rooms yet again – this time to a 12-bed dorm – before having a quick breakfast and heading out to Kindijk, the site of that famous postcard-windmill photo you’ll no doubt find in every tourist guide about the Netherlands. Like Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, of course I had to shoot it for myself 🙂
It proved to be an almost perfect day.
Starting with a short ferry ride down the Nieuwe Maas towards Ridderkerk, I arrived at the site of the windmills by about noon, rented a rickety old bicycle, and headed out to explore.
The start of the ride was about what you’d expect of a world-famous tourist site – droves of chubby families snacking on bags of chips and posing for group photos. But the farther I continued the more peaceful it became. Eventually it was just me and the nineteen massive, creaking wooden behemoths lining both sides of a small canal – green farmland stretched on either side, spotted by sheep, horses, and cows. Every once in awhile a small family of ducks would scurry back and forth across the path, before a great white swan would float into view from behind a small patch of reeds.
It made for some absolutely spectacular scenery – although the sun wasn’t positioned quite right for photos, I’m still more than satisfied with the outcome. It just required a bit of creative flash-work to get things to come out reasonably well lit. Andy would’ve been proud 😉
The day was so nice that I almost didn’t care even when the clouds started rolling in, removing any trace of blue from most of the day’s photos. In comparison to Munich’s sweatshirt-and-long-underwear weather, riding around in boardshorts and an undershirt – and even sweating a bit – was just lovely.
I dunno what it is, there’s just something about the Dutch countryside that’s so striking. No matter where you look, you somehow can’t find a thing to spoil the image – beautiful colors all around, just a few friendly local cyclists zipping by, and the faint sound of a duck quacking in the distance.
Once I’d seen the windmills from every angle imaginable, I used up my remaining bike rental time exploring a small nearby neighborhood. Again, a real-world pleasantville – colored by blossom trees with crystal-clear canals running behind everyone’s backyard.
No cars, just thin little bike paths – complete with their own signal lights and bridges. With its flat geography and nice weather, Holland really is the perfect cycling country.