February 12, 2013

Biking in the Netherlands

Bikes parked in the NetherlandsBikes. Bikes are everywhere  in the Netherlands, and to me they have defined my experience here. Before I had come here, I hadn’t biked for years, and then only on the country road in my neighborhood. In the past week, I have biked through Dutch cities in all kinds of weather (sun, rain, snow, ice, hail, you name it), and I have had a blast.

In the Netherlands, feet, bikes, and trains are the main forms of transportation. In cities like Delft, bikes are used for everything. Here is a list of what I have seen people do on bikes.

  • Ride double
  • Walk dogs
  • Steer another bike
  • Carry children
  • Lead horses
  • Carry a ladder
  • Wear a tux and carry a tray with beer and champagne glasses
  • Bring home groceries
  • … and carry practically anything else that you can carry with one hand

 

View of Delft from Nieuwe Kerk, which has the second-highest steeple in the Netherlands.

View of Delft from Nieuwe Kerk, which has the second-highest steeple in the Netherlands.

Delft is a beautiful city to see by bike. The brick roads travel past the 17th century houses and over the canals. Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk look out over the city as they have for centuries. The streets look much like they did in the time of Johannes Vermeer, and people continue to walk the streets going about their daily lives, just as he loved to depict them. Today, he would surely draw the bikes rolling through the town and people talking as they rode.

 

 

The outside of the library at Delft University, Netherlands

The library is probably my favorite building on the campus. It is the biggest hill in Delft, and it houses three stories of colorful bookshelves, plenty of open space, and five levels of study desks. It is truly beautiful.

By biking across a simple bridge from the town center to the university, you travel from the 17th century to the 21st century. Delft University of Technology where Oleksiy studies is on the cutting edge of technology. The architecture is very modern, but the bike paths and sustainable architecture continue. Everything is accessible for bikes, and there are plenty of places for students to park bikes including a bike garage in the basement of Oleksiy’s dorm.

 

 

Oleksiy and I didn’t stay in Delft all of the time. We also traveled to Den Haag, Leiden, and Amsterdam. We always biked to the train station and took a train. I love how regular the trains were and how fast they run. I took Amtrak over winter break, which was nice, but I would love for America to have a train system like the Netherlands have.

A large house in Delft, NetherlandsTraveling companion Oleksiy poses outside a model of a house in Madurodam in Den Haag, Netherlands

 

Madurodam in Den Haag is a miniature town that has replicas of buildings all across the Netherlands. Oleksiy and I used it to decide where we would want to go for the rest of the week. Above you can see him posing with a house that we saw in Delft.

The Parliament building in the city center of Den Haag, Netherlands

The skyline of Den Haag, Netherlands

The skyline of Den Haag

After traveling to Madurodam, we went back into the city center of Den Haag. There, we walked through the Parliament. Oleksiy informed me that even the Prime Minister bikes to work. He heard through the grapevine that there was once an international conference in the Netherlands, and all of the world leaders were presented with bikes to get there. Apparently Tony Blair, who will be visiting Lafayette this spring, had never ridden a bike before, so the Dutch taught him.

Helen stands before a lake and windmill in Leiden, NetherlandsThe next day, we travelled to Leiden where Oleksiy is taking a class. Leiden is a beautiful small Dutch city that is slightly bigger than Delft. The windmills, canals, drawbridges, and ships make the town picturesque. Oleksiy and I walked through the streets and then visited the botanical garden and observatory operated by the university. I wish that it had been summer so that we could have seen the rose and tulip gardens full in bloom.

 

On Friday, the weather was perfect for a bike ride, so Oleksiy and I took a southern route. I fell even further in love with Delft when I saw the surrounding countryside. I come from the countryside of Pennsylvania, so I feel at home among the pastures where sheep, cows, pigs, and horses graze. Canals, which are so beautiful to ride by in the city, are used in the countryside as fences for livestock and for irrigation.

Helen Hutchens stands with her bike by a road flanked by a canal in Delft, Netherlands

One day, we took a train and a couple buses out to the coast to see the dikes. Delft is about six feet below sea level, so it exists only because of the dikes on the coast. We learned how the dikes were constructed and how they are maintained, and we saw some of the old pumps that were used to move water from the inland deltas to the North Sea. We also learned that all of the water in the canals is fresh water from the Rhein and other rivers. Unfortunately since it was winter, we also learned what hail and wind feel like on the coast. Luckily, within an hour, the skies were clear and we could see the sailboats parked in the bay.

The inside of the Het Concertgebouw (concert hall) in Delft, NetherlandsOn Saturday, we went to a concert in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is about an hour from Delft by train and about ten times its size. It is known for being a very free city, as most cities in the Netherlands are, but it has become world famous for its red-light district that has been going strong since the 17th century. Oleksiy and I were not particularly interested in going there and being in the touristy area of the city, so we walked the canals and made our way to Het Concertgebouw (the concert hall) where we had tickets to a concert. If you ever have a chance to go to a concert there, please do. The acoustics are amazing, and the musicians are the best that I have ever heard. After listening to Beethoven, Debussy, and Gounod, we took a tram back across the city to catch our train back to Delft. I love how well the public transportation works here and how few cars there are on the roads in such a big city as this. Once again, bikes are a rule.

A look back on Delft, Netherlands through the city gate

Looking back on Delft through the city gate.

On Sunday, we took one last bike ride around Delft. I will truly miss it, and I hope to return there again some day. There is something so perfect about the balance between old and new, city and country. It’s so peaceful to watch the falling snow, to hear the bells from Nieuwe Kerk ringing, or to ride over the canals while watching the sunset light up the golden face of Oude Kerk.

The inside of the Oude Kerk parish church, Amsterdam's oldest building

The inside of Oude Kerk, which was built in the 14th century.

As I write this, I sit in the Dresden airport and wait for the other members of my study abroad group to arrive. One short journey is ending, and my next adventure is about to begin.

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2 Comments

  1. Your description gives me a feel for the place and how much you enjoyed your visit. Thank you for sharing.

    says Beth Katz
    February 12, 2013 at 8:24 am
  2. Helen, I heard from your Mother about your experience in Europe and I am glad you are having such a good time with bikes. Even I remark about the transportation in Europe every time I go to Germany, when I visit my family in Hamburg and the surrounding areas. I can go ANYWHERE I choose, without a car. Have a great time in Dresden.

    says Hedwig Hunsicker
    February 23, 2013 at 11:28 am
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