Thursday, October 18, 2012

Long Way to Utrecht

Tuesday, as I perched like a gargoyle on the arm of the sofa and snapped dozens of unsuspecting cyclists through the living room window, I realized that I should really get outside.  If possible, I should get outside for the majority of a day.

So I rode to Utrecht on Wednesday to get lunch and city-stroll with a Seattleite who is staying there this week.  I ate raw beef, and it was delicious.

The Netherlands has an extensive web of paved bike trails.  Small white signs are scattered along the major bike thoroughfares, serving as way points throughout the entire country, so all there is to riding from one city to another is to connect the dots.  A cyclist can plan a route using De Vrij Vogel, write down the points, figure out how to get to the first sign post, and pay acute attention to the side of the trail for the entire ride so as not to overshoot a way point and end up three miles west of nowhere.  Nobody likes backtracking.

Here was my route down to Utrecht Centraal from Amsterdam:

 Those green nodes all over the country are the fietsknooppunten, or bike node points.  Or something like that.  I'm stuck on "knoop."

And here is the direction the wind was blowing:

The ride should have taken me no longer than two hours, factoring in a couple of rest stops.  I ended up arriving at the final blessed fietsknooppunt 3 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Amsterdam.  At least it didn't rain!

The route took me southeast from A-dam through ArenA, where Ajax plays and I drooled over this Reebok Crossfit Gym.  It wound through three or four villages, and ran the length of a very pretty canal lined with monstrous old estates and a castle or two.  Sheep, goats, and cows bleated and lowed their regards.  Some of them left their best on the trail, as well.  Further south, I rode between the distant parallel lines of the highway traffic on the A2 and the blue-and-yellow trains of Dutch NS.  On entering Utrecht, I was warmly welcomed by a long line of houseboats that turned out to be some kind of red-light district.  The floating kind, I guess.  Whatever floats your boat. 

Navigating Utrecht itself was made wonderfully easy by following the magic trail of fietsknooppunten all the way to the city center, where I was able to change clothes and attempt to reverse my motorcycle hair in my friend's hotel room.  A couple of hours and my first beef carpaccio later, I opted to ride back to Amsterdam... on the train.  It cost just over 6 euro and took 30 minutes, with a short 3-mile bike home from Amsterdam Zuid station.  *Short note on bikes on trains here:  Dutch rail allows passengers to carry-on bicycles during non-peak hours.  Folding bicycles are welcome any old time, which is nice, but riding 30 miles into an 18 mph headwind on a folding bike with 20-inch wheels would be not-so-nice.

I did bring my camera.  I did not use it.  I was in a hurry.  On a nicer day, I will ride there again, and show you about it in full photographic splendor.

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