Tuesday, July 12 Xanten to Vynen
Our first impression was correct. Xanten was a very interesting. After leaving our panniers at the lockers in the TI office, we visited the Cathedral which had 17 side chapels with loads of beautiful alter pieces and carved statues, etc.
The crypt had a memorial to 6 local men who stood against the Third Reich and were sent to concentration camps and perished.
After coffee in the main square, we rode out to the Archaeological Park. Xanten was the most important Roman city in northern Europe. It’s an open air, reconstructed 1st century Roman city that covers at least ¾ Km square. As with other Roman cities , Xanten was on a valuable trading route so the Romans built a fortified city to protect it. In the last few decades, countless artifacts have been discovered from which archeologists have been able to date the construction and recreate some of it including wall decorations and furnishings.The Romans constructed a wall around the city to protect it and a portion of the original wall still exists. There were about 12 towers built into the wall as watchtowers some of which still exist. The amphitheater, towers, and other structures were pretty amazing and the audio guide informative. The entire place was so interesting that time went by very quickly. We had our lunch on the fly and later a coffee break at the Muhl (windmill) before touring the museum which was built on the exact footprint of the Roman Baths of the Roman city. There were many artifacts that they’ve found that were at the bottom of the now silted in spur of the Rhine.
Now is when the days gets crazy. Our zimmer host from last night called the next village and reserved a room in what we thought was a hotel. We found it without problem, but the man understood no English and indicated that our room was not there in the hotel, but up the street…left to the roundabout then right to the end of the street. He kept saying it was a Gasthaus. He gave us the key, but no address, house number, or street name. Just pointed and drew crudely on a piece of paper. We were to be back at 8 am for breakfast, (we think), and off we went to find our bed. Needless to say, we couldn’t find it. Finally we rang the bell at a house at the end of one of the streets and asked the occupant to call the man and ask him in German where it was. He got the instructions, and we found the little apartment without further difficulty. We’re thinking the hotel owner was drunk or a little “off” as the hotel was locked when we got there and didn’t really appear to be open for business. All’s well that ends well though. We had dinner at an Asian restaurant, which was the only place in town.
Wed. July 13 Vynen to Kalkar
Well, we’ll never know about the Hotel guy, but our place was terrific including the fact that we could roll our bikes loaded right into it. At 8 am the next morning, we rode back to the hotel where we found a cheerful lady serving a wonderful breakfast buffet. Several others apparently stayed there last night and were now down in the breakfast room. It seemed like a completely different place without the man we had dealt with last night.
After breakfast we rode south along the other side of the two lakes past Xanten to catch the bike/ pedestrian ferry to the east side of the Rhine. From there we turned north and stayed on the route through a few small villages, a lot of fields and a huge wildlife refuge to Rees. It is a very cute town with an old wall, a few towers left, and an active VCB. They have a wonderful board walk along the Rhine and main square or market place. This village and all of the buildings in it must have been destroyed in WW ll because, except for the fragments of the wall, nothing else is remotely old. HOWEVER, some very smart people must have gotten together and decided to create some whimsical statuary and give people a map and the idea to follow the map’s route and see all of the statuary. They are all over town,23 of them, that are larger than life and depict subjects of daily life. The town had many visitors and tour buses and was full of people following the guide map. Here are a few examples of the statuary:
It was a great idea and brought a smile to the faces of the visitors.
At Rees we took another bike/pedestrian ferry back across the Rhine and rode to the town of Kalkar. The temp dropped as we started out from the ferry landing and soon it was raining lightly. We hung out under an awning and later a large tree and arrived dry but cold, at our destination for the night. The B & B is one of the nicest we’ve stayed at on this trip. We were greeted by a live floral display and an old gentleman seated in the midst. We checked in and watched the last 45 kms. of the Tour de France and then walked into town in about 3 minutes. It was cooling off rapidly. We went to the grocery store and bought food for our picnic in the room. One local we met along the way asked why we were visiting this town since it is not on the usual tourist itinerary. Too bad others do not frequent places like this. They are normal, not teeming with tourists or tourist trinket, t-shirt or sweet shops. The people do not try and sell you anything. That’s why.
Thursday, July 14 Kalkar-Millingen, Holland
We rode back about 10 kms to the Rhine, across the bridge, and on to Emmerick. We checked out town including the walking streets where we found light bike vests at the Euro Store for 1 Euro. The day got progressively windier. There were intermittent periods of sunshine but it still was cool. We arrived in Millingen about 3:30 and had a glass of wine to celebrate the beginning of our adventure in Holland. We ambled around town on our bikes then found our B & B. It was in a home built in 1800 and had a thatched roof. Bart asked if we wanted to use the clothes washer and dryer as we’re on such a long tour. We jumped at it. We haven’t machine washed our clothes since our time with Charitha in the Loire valley of France nearly 2 months ago. What a treat! We’re sharing the B & B with a mother and daughter from Holland who are getting in shape for a trek of 40 kms. a day for 4 days. They told us it was a very popular annual event in Holland. The rooms were lovely. Our dinner out was Dutch pancakes with different things cooked inside (meat,bacon,nuts, cheese,apples,anything you can think of) a tradition in this area. Then back to the B & B and planning for tomorrow.
Friday July 15 Millingen to Wolfheze
Happy 5 year Birthday Max !!!!!!
Today our goal was to see the British Air Museum and cemetery in Oosterbeek. Two blocks from the B & B we took a bike ferry across the river and then rode to Arnhem about 30 kms. Arnhem was the site of a huge battle in WW2 in which the British, American, and Polish glider delivered paratroopers tried to take 4 bridges before the Germans could blow them up. Three of the bridges were across canals that gave access to the pinnacle bridge at Arnhem which crossed the Rhine. If successful, the victory would have given the allies a straight run to Berlin and the end of the war in Europe by Christmas, 1944. The allies were unable to take the bridge at Arnhem over the Rhine and, despite taking the other 3 bridges, the operation failed although Gen. Montgomery declared it a success because 3 of 4 bridges were taken. It was not until May, 1945, that Berlin was taken and the war ended. It was however the start of the liberation of Holland where the people observe a Memorial Day each year. We went into the old city center of Arnhem for lunch and walked through a street market. Soon after that we rode another 8 Kms to Oosterbeek and the museum. We left 2 ½ hrs later and went to the British Cemetery. It held 1600 Brits and about 2 dozen Poles who died during that assault. All of it was really well done and very moving.
Oosterbeek had no hotels or rooms for rent so we went to a golf resort in the forest. We got the “last minute” rate and a free upgrade to a patio room. Dinner in their bar was a little pricey, but we were held captive. The breakfast was an additional 17.5 Euro each, so we begged some yogurt and had our own cereal and coffee in the room.
Saturday, July 16 Wolfheze-Amerongen
A lovely day of riding, but those who think Holland is flat are incorrect. Although there were no hills today, there were a few steady uphill sections. In a distance of 20kms we gained elevation to the tune of 640’. Nothing hard or steep, but uphill nevertheless. We rode through the forest, down small lanes amongst the sheep and cattle in their pastures. At one point we saw a calf which had just been born, being cleaned by it’s mother. At our stop for coffee and lunch we met another cyclist from Holland headed to Denmark. She makes new guitars out of old ones, and is also a songwriter. She had a guitar with her on the bike. So many interesting people out on the road.
The highlight of the day easily was our tour of an old yet still in working order windmill. We saw it from a few blocks away when riding through a small village and went to investigate. The volunteer windmill operator told us that he owned a company that did high tech work in measurement equipment, and it was very stressful. Some time ago he got interested in preserving windmills and studied how to operate and maintain them. Since then he’s been certified and volunteers on Saturdays at this windmill in his neighborhood. He told us all about it and took us inside and upstairs in the mill. He’s really got a passion for these old giants. We’re staying at a cottage in the back yard of someone’s home. It was great to have he privacy and cook our own dinner.
The terrain the past two days has been much different than what we’ve been seeing and what you think of as the Netherlands. Some is in crops, some is forested and most are criss-crossed by dikes, canals and water. We have taken several ferries to cross back and forth on the river, ridden through farmland, country lanes, and seen large, mostly recently built homes, thatched roofs, canal banks, dikes and lots of forested areas. There are bike lanes on both sides of almost every road and lane. Since it’s been the wknd, there have literally been hundreds of riders. Many of them touring cyclists and loads of day riders out in packs. The ferries have all been full of other cyclists crossing. This morning we stopped at an apple orchard that had a café. The teen who served our coffee told the owner (her Grandma) that there were people speaking English and she came out to chat. She had been an exchange student in Ontario for a year in high school and still visits the family several times a year as well as attending events such as weddings. She was very excited to speak with us and practice her English. She and her husband travel to the US or Canada 3-4 times every year. On our ride we saw a couple of castles and of course many churches.
Tonight we’re staying at a B & B in the middle of a large apple/ cherry/ strawberry orchard. It’s sort of a 2 story bunkhouse with a separate dining hall/cafe. The farmer is very friendly and quickly got the agricultural intern from France working here for the summer to come over to speak with us. She was happy to converse in French (with Ed) and English. We were the first Americans that they’d had stay here in a very long time. She suggested we have dinner at the castle about 5 kms down the dike road. Their specialty is the famous Dutch pancakes. It was a warm evening and the ride was beautiful through the orchards and forest.
Monday, July 18 Tricht A layover day of sorts
It was a beautiful, warm morning. Breakfast at this agritourismo was outstanding with fruit from the orchards, homemade raisin bread, granola, eggs, breads and coffee. It was very hard not to go back for more. We were one of two couples last night. The other couple left this morning after breakfast, but we decided to stay an extra day and decide on a route for the next couple of days, get lodging for tomorrow, take it easy and day ride in the area. We did most of that, the ride was from 11 – 2 with stops to do a little shopping and get lunch. It was a meander with no route in mind.
We have been surprised that many houses in this area have thatched roofs. The houses are not quite as “pretty” as other places as the houses are not with half-timbered construction, but they are very cute with loads of flowers.
We were also surprised by the number of windmills that have been fixed up and are in working order, if only for tourists. We came across 2 of them again today. Windmills add such grace to the landscape.
The countryside in this area of Holland is absolutely flat and about 6’ below sea-level. The only climbing and the only places that are not flat are the bridges across railroad tracks/ highways, and getting up on dike. We’re not kidding. As far as the eye can see there are flat fields in agricultural/orchard production separated at times by big trees acting as windbreaks.
This area is famous for its fruit, particularly cherries and apples and rightly so. There are cherry stands everywhere. The cherries are big, dark purple, juicy and delicious. We haven’t had the apples, but the apple juice made from our host’s apples is wonderful.
We got back to our orchard house by mid-afternoon after about 40kms and Ed got busy and cleaned both bikes. It was a big chore since they have not been cleaned since France and they have endured many rains, puddles, dirt bike paths and mud. They now sparkle. Between bikes we watched the last 45Kms of the Tour de France. We have not been able to get audio in English so watching really means watching. The audio here is in Dutch and no one outside of Holland understands it. After the finish, back to the bikes followed by dinner 5Kms away at the same restaurant we ate at last night.
Tuesday July 19 Tricht to Nieuwendijk (Orchard to Fort)
A completely cloudless day from start to finish. The locals on the ferry this afternoon said it was the warmest day so far this year. We even thought it was hot. The ride was again along paths, dikes, small lanes and in and out of very tiny villages. Our morning coffee outside of a bakery included a fantastic apricot delight….they call it Kaffie un Kuchen… coffee and a sweet. Maggie had a flat today, the first of the trip, amazing if you’re from “goat head” country!. Tonight we’re staying out in the country below a dike in the honest to goodness 1887 Fort Bakkerskil. It’s pretty cool. Our bunk room (6 beds) feels and looks a little like barracks although it was actually the “Explosives” Room. The bathrooms/ showers are communal. No canons or explosions in our room. We have decided to spend another night here and just ride the countryside tomorrow as it’s so unique. They have 2 apartments, 2 bunk rooms like ours, and 4 double or private rooms, a terrace cafe, and serve a mean breakfast! The couple who run the B&B are really nice and very helpful. They were involved in the restoration of the fort about 10 years ago. The fort is a part of the Hollandase Waterline Defense system and includes 60 forts, 2 castles, 5 fortified towns, and 700 bunkers. Many of the forts are now B&B’s, cafes along the dikes, education or conference centers. The “waterline” is 3-5 Km wide, 85 Kms long and starts just east of Amsterdam and goes a little south and east of Rotterdam. It was Holland’s first line of defense for it’s many wars and invasions until it was decommissioned sometime after 1940 and now up for the status of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The plan, aside from defense, was to flood the land if invaded. Dinner in town, 4 kms. away was expensive and not that good. We drowned our sorrows in ice cream. The sun was setting in the west as we rode into the fort. The sky was clear and it made for some fantastic color. At the same time the full moon was rising in the east and colored by the sun set. There was a mirror effect of the moon rising as the result of a well placed waterway. See for yourself:
Wed. July 20 Another day at the Fort
We rode a 59 Km loop in the farm country along small roads and dikes starting and ending here at the Fort. The day was very hot, humid, and cloudless, but windy. The little villages we went through had no services, and it wasn’t until after 1pm that we found a market to get something to eat and drink. Once we hit the river again, we found our coffee at a port village where the ferry comes in. We did a little bike parts shopping and got food for dinner at the nearest town to our temporary home then rode back to the Fort to relax and cool down. Our new bunker mates are a couple of ladies in their 70’s from Germany on a week long bike ride. It was fun and interesting to visit with them and exchange ideas and thoughts. After our picnic dinner we indulged in our host’s apple tart sitting out on the terrace watching the sunset once again.