Holland Holiday, or What part of my body hurts the most?

29 Aug
There’s this obscure song by my favorite composer Jim Steinman called “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most?” That’s what I woke up wondering last week in Holland.

Was it my legs from biking 35 miles in one day?
Was it my butt from biking 35 miles on a rental bike with a broken seat?
Was it my arm or hand from trying to hold an iPad mini to navigate while biking?

If you couldn’t tell, we went on a short holiday to Holland last week. We stayed in Amsterdam but decided to take a day trip to Haarlem because the only two cities in The Netherlands Rick Steves writes about in his “Best of Europe” book are Amsterdam and Haarlem. We intended to take a train there until anonymous strangers on the Internet planted the idea of biking in my head. “Holland is flat as a pancake!” they wrote. “People commute to work in Haarlem by bicycle everyday! It’s an easy 20 km ride.” (That’s 12 miles, Americans). It’s true that the Dutch bike everywhere and there are very clear bike paths and signs. So we rented some three-speeds from MacBike and set off for Haarlem, armed only with a GPS that couldn’t seem to locate our location and an iPad Mini with the Forever Maps app.

The last time I rode a bike was in college when I rode 10 minutes to my classes on north campus. But sure enough, riding a bike is just like, well, riding a bike, and I easily peddled around the bike rental plaza. But then we had to go on the actual road and I quickly realized I had no idea what the cycling rules of the road were. I knew I had to stay on the bike path, but what about intersections without stoplights? The cars seemed to be giving me the right-of-way, but then a tram came, along with hordes of pedestrians. Eventually I hopped off and walked my bike until we got to the major road. Stephen tried to hold the GPS and navigate while I stopped every 5 minutes to check the iPad map, but eventually we decided to just follow the clearly marked signs towards Haarlem. Google Maps and the random people on the Internet assured me the journey would take a little over an hour.

It took us two hours. At one point a couple that reminded me of my maternal grandparents passed us on their bikes.

“So what is there to see in Haarlem?” Stephen asked as I caught up to him, but couldn’t catch Grandpa. My mind went blank. I knew Rick Steves raved about it, but as we were halfway there I couldn’t remember why I wanted to go to Haarlem so badly.

“There’s a windmill there… and a church.”

“We are biking all this way to see a windmill and a church?” he replied. I told him the journey was half the fun, even though half the time we were biking next to the motorway and so the only scenery was the cars rushing past the various industrial parks.

Eventually we made it to the city center and parked our bikes near the Grote Markt.

grote markt
The markt area was beautiful. Haarlem reminded me of Bruges, what Harry from “In Bruges” would call a “fairytale $*&%ing town.” We had lunch on the square, toured the Grote Kerk (“Great Church”), then took photos by the windmill.

“How far is the beach, again?” Stephen asked.

When researching the route to Haarlem I noticed the beach town of Zandvoort was only 5 miles from Haarlem. Stephen had wanted to go to the French Riviera instead of Holland for our holiday, so I thought biking to the beach might be a nice compromise.

“The map says it should take less than 30 minutes,” I said.

We cycled through Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, which while beautiful, was certainly not “pancake flat.”
Zuid-Kennemerland bike
So many times we thought about pulling over, calling the mound of sand on the side of the bike path “the beach,” and heading back. But we needed to see the sea — we had come too far. After an hour we finally emerged from the national park into a seaside town. We walked our bikes up the stairs, and there it was — the North Sea. The beach.
Zandvoort beach
As far as I know, The Netherlands isn’t known for its beaches, but I was pleasantly surprised. It looked like any other beach town. We parked our bikes then got some ice cream while we looked at the sand sculptures.
zandvoort sand sculpture
Then we had to bike the 17 miles back to Amsterdam before it got dark. I was better at navigating on the way back, but it still took us over two hours. My butt has never been more sore. That was over a week ago and it finally no longer hurts to sit down. Needless to say we spent the rest of the week on foot, no more cycling.

And now the photos that didn’t fit into the narrative:

Grote Kerk St.-Bavokerk
Grote Kerk
Ceiling of the church:
grote kerk ceiling
Zoomed in:
grote kerk ceiling zoom
Haarlem backstreet:
haarlem street
The famous windmill:
haarlem windmill
My typical shallow depth of field shot:
haarlem flowers
One of the many Haarlem canals:
haarlem canal
Shutters aren’t just for decoration?!
haarlem shutters
Haarlem Beetle
haarlem beetle
Now with some quick, crappy editing!
haarlem beetle bw
At first I thought this was just a different spelling of my name, but apparently Rennes is a city in northwest France.
rennes snackhouse
Finally, proof that I biked to the Zandvoort beach!
holland bike
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