Monday, July 4, 2016

South Holland: Biking Rotterdam to Ijmuiden

We've had a nice week visiting our friends in Strijen and exploring in and around Rotterdam, but now it's time to put more miles on the bike.  We headed west down the Rhine, here called the Nieuwe Waterweg or New Waterway.  As is so often the case in the Netherlands, there are separate bike and pedestrian paths.  We passed a massive structure, enormous metal gates on both side of the river, each the shape of a pie.  They swing out, pivoting on the point of the "pie" until the rounded outer edges touch and lock together when a storm surge is expected, to save Rotterdam from a disaster like the one in 1953 we described in our last entry.

Almost two hours from Rotterdam we reached the town on the northern edge of the mouth, called the Hook of Holland.  Now looking more or less tame were some WWII bunkers that the Germans built as part of the Atlantic Wall to keep the Allies from landing or from sailing up the Rhine during Holland's long occupation from May 1940 to May 1945.

The southern shore extends a bit further, and that's the newest part of the Port of Rotterdam extending further west.  The Stena Hollandica sailed by, the very same ferry that brought us to the Netherlands a week ago.  Every morning it heads to England while its sister ship the Stena  Brittanica heads here, then 12 hours later they reverse. 

While standing there, a birdwatcher with a camera the size of his head excitedly pointed to some birds below us.  When he realized our Dutch was exceedingly minimal, he struggled to explain what they were beyond "very rare."  "At the table you have knives, forks .  .  ."  OH, yes, those are Spoonbills!  Yes, we've seen Roseate Spoonbills in Florida, but never white ones (or any other color for that matter).  Two sightings in a lifetime?  Yeah, pretty rare, for us anyway.

Having reached the North Sea, we were now in one of the few places in the Netherlands with hills, all of them of course sand dunes.  At times they were quite open, other times remarkably well-covered with bushes and trees.  Luckily we had a SW wind as we pedaled north, a partial tailwind.

Just east (i.e. downwind) of the hilliest part of the dunes was a line of greenhouses that stretched back generally 100 to 200 m, or about the length of two football fields.  For 18 or 19 km out of the first 20 as we headed north along the coast, if we pointed to the right we were pointing at a greenhouse, they were so continuous.  While the Netherlands has an enormous number of greenhouses, we later learned that this area, called Westland, is particularly famous for them.

It's not unusual in the more rural parts of the Netherlands to encounter sheep on bike trails, since they function as a sort of lawn mowing service to keep the dikes nice and trim.  We were a bit surprised, however, to find that sheep are not the only animals roaming the bike trails!

Because of the beauty of this dune environment, we returned to this area that we also visited on our two prior bike tours through the Netherlands.  We made a point each of those two times of skipping the country's busiest coastal resort city, Scheveningen.  With this year's "Oh, what the heck" attitude that also saw us visit busy Rotterdam, we took the plunge and booked two nights.  It was great.  It helped that we found a good hotel right on the beach, the Aquarius.  It's one of the low cream-colored buildings in the next photo.

Our other Dutch friends, Kies and Janna, live nearby and joined us for dinner in one of the dozens of restaurants at the edge of the sand.  Afterwards we walked the spectacular new boardwalk and admired the sculptures of Tom Otterness, whose curious works we've also enjoyed on walks along the Hudson River in NYC.  Except for How to Eat a Dutch Herring, the sculptures are based on fairy tales, though we couldn't really say which ones except, obviously, for The Boy Who Put His Finger in the Dike.

We walked the beach again the next day and took photos of each other from the pier, and also pointed the camera at the 19th century Kurhaus, the grand old hotel that anchors this resort town.

The first evening we took this sunset photo at 10:30 pm!  Next day we took a look up the coast from our room.  This is where we're now headed.

Once again we encountered wildlife on the trail, this time wild horses!  Then along came another red tandem!

File:Map provinces Netherlands-en.svg
We have now reached the southern edge of the Province of North Holland and the massive North Sea Canal that connects Amsterdam to the sea.  We'll cross it and  take you through North Holland, Friesland and Groningen in our next entry.

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