What a treat to have a leisurely shower, use sweet smelling towels and sink into a fresh sheets and a comfortable bed. Things we quickly take for granted. At 08.00 sharp there was a knock on our door and the adorable Miep wheeled in a laden trolley with our breakfast. Notwithstanding the fact that she speaks hardly any English, and our Dutch is but a few useless words, she chats away to us and we manage to communicate how the table extends and the coffee pot works. She then departs to leave us to enjoy the feast she has brought.
We are now adept at getting our bags packed and loaded on to Talula and we away promptly as we want to make as much headway before the forecast rain descends. However, we were lulled into a false sense of security as we clocked up the miles in the warm sunshine. Perhaps the forecast was wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time. Our route took us initially back along the dyke that had been so oppressively hot the previous day, but was a pleasure today wafted as we were with a pleasant cool breeze. We then wended our way through a lovely bucolic landscape, feeling that our travels have really given us a flavour of many aspects of Holland.
Our early optimism about the weather though was proved to be misplaced as after a couple of hours cruising along, the wind started to pick up, and the skies took on an ominous hue. Sure enough the deluge arrived with a vengeance. We donned our jackets, and girded our loins to face the oncoming storm. Cycling into the wind made the going particularly difficult, the rain pelted us, though being in front, poor Mr V bore the brunt of it; shielding me somewhat. What had been a lovely agricultural landscape, now took on the nature of an exposed isolated plain, with little shelter or windbreak. It was miserable, tough going, but there was nothing to do but push on. It seemed though, that our cycling to meet the storm meant that we passed through it as it travelled to where we had come from, and our hearts were gladdened to see brighter skies ahead.
Thankfully, after over an hour of being battered we passed through the worst of the weather, and were able to stop for a bite to eat. Lucky, we had made sandwiches from the immense breakfast, had a hot flask and some ginger cake, so did not have to seek out lunch provisions. We rested at a picnic table and refuelled. Not today though the leisurely repast, damp as we were, and the threat of more rain ever present. A couple of ferry rides later we began to enter more built-up areas, the cycle routes for the main though, keep you along the pleasanter byways, though again today a couple of junctions were lacking in signage and we had to check our bearings.
After going through a couple of towns, we eventually entered the conurbation of Utrecht, where we had booked vrienden op de fiets accommodation for the next two nights given that heavy rain was forecast for Wednesday.
We once more located our ultimate destination via google maps. We had opted again for what in the directory was classed as a garden house with shower/toilet as we wanted to be more self contained rather than stay within the host’s home. We arrived at our lodgings to find that the building was what had previously been a care home of 1960s construction. The owners clearly collect and sell on many things, the front yard housing all manner of items. Our host said that we could choose our accommodation and led me around the back of the main building, to a maze of small areas of loosly tended gardens. We stopped at a wooden building, which to my eyes resembled a garden shed. I held out hope that it was more than it seemed, as when I had booked, I had sought confirmation that there was a private shower, and had been assured “yes, yes, and a kitchenette”. My heart sank as the door was opened to reveal it was an actual garden shed. With bunk beds, a table, chairs and nothing else. My face must have said it all, as Mr Armelisweerd quickly realised this would not do, said he had another option and led me to a similar shed but with a double bed. Now, the blurb for vrienden op de fiets says that it is a single price, whatever the accommodation, though there is a minimum standard, this is that it is clean with somewhere secure for your bike and includes breakfast. We have clearly experienced the 5 star standard so far. My host and I did not need to speak the same language for him to appreciate my disappointment. It was palpable. I was regretting bitterly that I had blindly checked in and paid before viewing. “Would you rather stay in the main building?” He asked. There was another option! Sweet relief! He led me through the back of the building, there were a couple of double rooms to choose from. I quickly opted for what I perceived to be the better of the two.
We secured Talula in the bike shelter and settled into what would be our home for the next two nights. We had the place to ourselves so explored a little, it is a large building, which has been set up as a number of small self contained areas housing a room or two that share a shower room and kitchenette. It is basic and somewhat Heath Robinson, but the sheets and towels though mismatched, are clean; it has a charm and is reminiscent of a kind of hippy commune.
We had an excellent nights sleep on a very comfortable bed, followed by the usual Dutch breakfast of bread cheese and ham, and chocolate sprinkles! The rain which had started the previous evening still persisted but we togged up appropriately. I have learned through my 31 years of marriage to an outdoorsman; there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.
We prepared to walk into the centre of Utrecht, when our host kindly produced a large umbrella (no doubt one of a large collection). Even in the rain, Utrecht’s charms are apparent. We meandered around the quiet rain slicked medieval centre, stopping for a while to admire the awe inspiring cathedral and Dom tower which was originally one building until hit by a tornado. Marvelling at a building that would have taken such immense human endeavour to construct.
After a welcome lunch in a comfy coffee bar, the rain eased off and the sun began to shine so we could explore a little more enjoyably. We even found the Miffy traffic lights. The canal area is lovely, and made up for our disappointing experience of Amsterdam. I would recommend a visit to Utrecht to any prospective travellers.
We cannot quite believe that tomorrow is our last day, it feels that cycling is what we do now such is our daily routine. Gouda and Delft await on our route back to Hook of Holland. Cheese and a Vermeer perhaps?