What we did see in large numbers, because it was a Saturday, was cyclists. Quite a few, mostly 20- and 30-something guys, were participating in an organized ride. They came by in clusters like mini-pelotons, but it was not a race and one such group behind us actually faded away to the rear as we rode along. Thanks to a terrific tail wind we did several stretches at 30-38 kph (19-24 mph), with gentle undulations from the sand dunes pushing that a little lower or higher from time to time. It was a nice break from the usual steady pace on flat terrain. Even the nature was different, less tamed and more "natural."
After he finally did lock up, he directed us to a chaotic antique store a few doors away, primarily to see the architecture as it is housed in several ancient homes that have been interconnected with passageways. At an inner courtyard he pointed out the view of the roofline, which is probably close to what a person would have seen in the early 1600s. He then told us exciting news, that filmmaker Ric Burns shot this same view for a documentary about the Pilgrims that will be on PBS next Spring.
In Leiden we had tracked down another canoe rental company, so spent an extra day there and had a terrific time paddling 3 1/2 hrs down almost every canal in town, and there are many. Big canals, little canals, busy canals -- we did 'em all! It's already one of our favorite memories of the summer.
As if canoeing down canals wasn't enough, we spent much of the next day biking 40 km to Gouda along many more, first the 'canalized' Oude Rijn River, a side channel of the Rhine, then later a series of smaller canals, sometimes on both sides of the road!
Leaving Gouda we had some more "canals to the left of us, canals to the right of us" moments, then some more kilometers up close to the Oude Rijn.
A few more kilometers brought us to a fairytale castle, Kasteel De Haar. The van Zuylen family acquired it in 1440 when it was about 50 years old. 450 years later it was a mess when umpteenth heir Etienne van Zuyler inherited it. Etienne, however, had had the good luck or good planning to have married Baroness Helene de Rothschild. Yes, those Rothschilds. They hired one of the Netherlands' most illustrious architects, who reconstructed it into a 19th century version of medievalism perfected, complete with running water and lights. We'd like to show you inside but, once again, no photos allowed. Take it from us, though, it's as elegant as anything you could visit in Newport R.I., and (slightly) more authentic.
Our next stop was Utrecht, which has (surprise, surprise) yet more atmospheric canals. It also had another tower, the Dom Toren, taller even than ones we've recently climbed in Brugge, Vienna and Groningen. 112 m (367') later we were at the top, looking down, of course, at canals!
Thanks to the Kröller-Müllers, a large part of the Veluwe has been preserved, with a world-class art museum in the middle of it. We stayed in the town of Otterlo, just outside the park, and cycled 30 km around it. Since the sand dunes do indeed create that most un-Dutch natural feature, hills, we were glad not to have our luggage on the bike. A small portion of the park consists of dunes of drifting sand without covering vegetation, in various patches here and there. A somewhat larger area is what they call "moors," actually sandy areas with a thin layer of grasses and other low ground cover plants. Despite the sandy soil, about half the park is covered in large brush and trees, albeit the scruffy kind one finds in sandy areas.
To minimize car traffic, parking is pricey, with cheaper lots at the three entrances and a fleet of 1700 free white bicycles for unlimited use within the park. Here is the "parking lot" at the museum, which is only 3 and 5 km from the two closer entrances to the park.
Helene Kröller-Müller received excellent advice in her art collecting, and particularly focused on Vincent Van Gogh when his paintings were just beginning to have a market. In 17 years of collecting, she purchased over 11,000 art works, including 91 paintings and 180 drawings by Van Gogh, the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world.
And then, the best part saved for last, the Van Gogh collection. So many beautiful ones. We'll share four with you:
The Sower, done at Arles in 1888