A Custom Experience for a One-of-a-Kind Bike
When I was beginning to plan a cycling trip in the Netherlands, I came across Edmond's website, which struck me as particularly comprehensive and informative. That's when I contacted him by email.
His initial line of questioning immediately set me at ease for I could see that he was more interested in the kind of experience that I was seeking rather than trying to sign me up for an off-the-shelf "package."
I explained that I was going to be cycling on an 1885 penny farthing reproduction-the kind of bicycle with a very big wheel in the front (142 cm diameter) and a small wheel in the back. The design of a "high wheel" was all about speed and comfort, but it was notoriously dangerous due to the centre of gravity being mostly on the front wheel and the rider's head, in my case, being beyond 2.5 metres above the ground.
Edmond took my safety very seriously. Based on my needs, his inclination was to consider locations outside of Amsterdam with good logistics. In the end, he recommended Weesp as a "home base" of sorts.
This was a brilliant idea... and a departure from the initial hostel I had picked out in Amsterdam. The wisdom of basing myself in Weesp was that it is very central and accessible but slightly removed from the hustle-bustle of Amsterdam.
Within minutes, I could easily be on beautiful cycling paths in the country along, for example, the Vecht or Gein rivers. He then helped me find the Oude Pastorie (Old Vicarage), which I highly recommend for its comfort, location and value.
(remark by Edmond: Lovely place indeed, but unfortunately closed - house sold)
When I arrived from Vancouver, our first outing was a walking tour of Amsterdam, followed by a cycling day trip on a regular Dutch bike with 3 speeds in the highly varied and picturesque countryside surrounding Weesp. This proved to be a very wise decision as it allowed me to preview riding conditions and learn the "systems of the road" that make biking in the Netherlands much safer than anywhere else in the world.
Next, we took my penny farthing for a morning ride to a nearby windmill and Edmond graciously took still and action photos of me with this very strange but beautiful machine.
At last, I felt well oriented and that's when Edmond encouraged me to venture farther and to ride on my own. (I think, in part, riding with me may have made him nervous as he feels very responsible for his clients' safety.)
From this point onward, we outlined a trip around the Ijsselmeer, via Durgerdam, Marken, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, the Afsluitdijk enclosure dam and across to Friesland, following the coast and its lovely villages (i.e., Makkum, Workum and Hindeloopen) to Stavoren where I crossed back to Enkhuizen by ferry.
The route was well thought out by Edmond, for it took into account wind directions (so that I would mainly have the wind in my back) and my personal safety (by avoiding as much as possible dense areas).
With my permission, he sent out a few press releases outlining where I would be on a given date. This led to a series of interviews with various news organizations.
Not only were these fun PR opportunities for me, but they also made organizing lodgings easier. I relied 100% on an Airbnb-style network for cyclists (and hikers) called Vrienden op de fiets www.vriendenopdefiets.nl (friends of the bicycle). For a 10 euros/one-year membership, one can stay one night in very comfortable B&B-calibre accommodations for just 20 euros, including a hearty breakfast.
The only caveat is that you show up on a bicycle or on foot - no cars!
My hosts were usually very excited to be welcoming a cyclist with such an unusual bike. The press releases and interviews also facilitated endless contacts with local residents.
"You're the Canadian! I read about you..." "How do you get up?" "How do you get down?" "How is your wife doing on her Camino?" Since I had shared that my wife and daughter were having their own parallel experience in Spain, it was not unusual to have complete strangers (very warm, kind and hospitable strangers) ask about them, too!
After a successful first tour spanning eight days, I returned to Weesp and with Edmond's guidance, planned a second tour into Flevoland (the "new land") and up into the Northeast.
Edmond suggested I could go as far North as I wanted with the wind, again, mostly in my back, then take the train back whenever I had had enough. This was another excellent strategy on Edmond's part.
As I approached different centres, I occasionally received supplemental information by email from Edmond. This was the case, for example, in Kampen and Borger, the hunebed "capital" of the Netherlands. Again, he sent out some press releases (always with my permission) and this led to even more local interest and opportunities.
One highlight was to be invited for an educational visit to the Montessori Lyceum in Groningen.
This tour lasted eleven days and was physically more challenging. The distances were manageable but some of the older roads in Drenthe made for slower riding. On the other hand, the forest cycling trails of this province were among the most beautiful anywhere.
After making it to the island of Schiermonnikoog, the northernmost spot accessible to me, I returned to Weesp by train with a feeling of immense satisfaction.
Not only had I clocked over 600 km on an 1885 replica bike, but I felt so enriched by the human connections along the way. Certainly the bike is an instant conversation starter, but because of this, I was able to discover the best of the Dutch character while experiencing first-hand the distinct regional differences between such provinces as North Holland, Friesland, Flevoland, Overijssel, Drenthe and Groningen.
I was so enthused by this trip that I am leaving my bicycle in Weesp and planning a return trip in the Spring with my wife! For all of this, I owe a big "thank you" to Edmond's professionalism and expertise, someone who very quickly became my best Dutch friend.
Phil Fertey - Nelson, BC, Canada - September/October 2018
You can find pictures of Phil's trip @philfertey on Instagram.
And here's Phil's Twitter account.
Click here to download Phil's story in PDF.
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