Le Grand Tour: Day 62 – Arnhem To Rotterdam (161km)


The longest day of the trip but it needed to be. It’s now Saturday morning and I still have around 60km of cycling today: 30km from central Rotterdam to the Hook of Holland and then, back up and down the Rhine to the end of one of the other fingers of land to the ferry. Check-in closes at 7pm tonight so I have plenty of time to complete those 60km but if I had stopped yesterday east of Rotterdam that might not have been the case. 

One of the nicest things about travelling by bicycle is that you see everything. (I’ve made this point before…) That was certainly the case yesterday travelling across The Netherlands from east to west. In most countries that would involve the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the pristine, the run-down… Yesterday I cannot recall any of the bad, ugly or run-down. It’s astonishing. There was not one place through which I pedalled in which I wouldn’t have happily lived. From the opulent western suburbs of Arnhem, the small towns and villages beside the Rhine to the suburbs of Rotterdam. The latter is the most surprising. Like all major cities, Rotterdam has its tower blocks and areas of high-density living where you would expect those on lower incomes to be living. Back in the UK these are often places to avoid. The ones I passed yesterday were well maintained, tidy, full of green spaces… A world away from most other cities I can think if. ‘Pristine’ would be a suitable word to describe almost all of the built and un-built environment here. It was like cycling through an edition of Homes and Gardens magazine or an episode of Grand Designs or even an edition of Civil Engineering Weekly (if it exists). Astonishing!

The Netherlands is a very rich country but I don’t think that explains the situation. I suspect that incomes are much more evenly spread on this country, that the least vulnerable are supported to a much greater extent and that investment is not seen as a quick fix to buy votes but as part of the psyche of the people. You invest in your villages, towns, cities and build efficient transport links in the very long term because those in charge recognise that their main function is to make lives liveable; to make lives better. That’s how they’ve created the cycle network that now exists. And once you’ve invested, you don’t tick that box and just move on to another shiny new project, you continue to invest to maintain the standard. Again, back in the UK, things are built and then left to rot. Our governments – national and local – are now in the business of picking up the smashed pieces of our society and trying to fix everything because when the investment was made in the first place it wasn’t of a great standard (the mantra that ‘cheapest is best’ pervades so much if British life) and it’s not maintained. The entire public sector in Britain is moving in the direction of being one big emergency service… Strewth. Spending a few days here in The Netherlands emphasises just how far we have to go to create a liveable country for all. 

Lecture over. The route. I followed the EuroVelo 15 for much of the day. It was comically twisty and turny. In most places when this happens it’s because the cycle planners want to keep you away from dangerous traffic. Here in The Netherlands I get the impression it’s to make your cycle as beautiful as possible because the roads with busy traffic all have good quality cycling lanes beside them. Conscious of the time and the distance I had to cycle, I did ‘canalise’ a few sections of the route, linking up knooppunten that could be more easily reached by cycling beside a main road. I didn’t suffer. I did take the wrong route a few times. I put this down to continuing to follow the cycle path. In most places I’ve visited this summer, if a cycle path continues it’s because it’s the continuation of the route you are following. Not here of course where the routes are everywhere. Only once did my navigational errors cause issues as I needed to double back a few kilometres in order to cross the river (there don’t seem to be that many bridges over the Rhine). Additionally, at one point a road had been closed due to an accident (the female police officer hadn’t attended the charm lectures at police school…). This road would have been one of my short cuts so I reverted to the cycle route. Alas this was diverted due to some significant investment on the flood bank of the river and the diversion was in the direction of a ferry that didn’t appear to be functioning. It was after this point – about 40km east of Rotterdam – I started to follow Google directions. Inevitably this meant a straight path and for many of those 40 kilometres I was beside a motorway. However, in a stupendous example of not doing things cheaply but doing the right thing that makes people’s lives more liveable (see comments above…) a high concave wall had been built beside the motorway for most of its length in suburban Rotterdam to reduce the noise to nearby houses. The effect was amazing. I live a few kilometres from the M62 and on a still day the noise level I experience was louder than what I experienced yesterday cycling perhaps 20 metres from the fast lane.

So all in all a wonderful day of cycling. The only exasperating experience was my chat with another police officer (who had been to charm school…) outside the Airborne Museum near Arnhem. You’ll be able to hear what he said in the podcast (hopefully published later on Saturday or Sunday morning). He was involved with the 75th Airborne March, an annual event that has taken place since shortly after the war. I asked him if many British people attended but he explained that because of extra costs as a result of Brexit, many of those involved in the parade – which includes vehicles of the period – could no longer afford to do so as their vehicles would require expensive paperwork to export and then import back to the UK. I make my opinions very clear in the podcast and I hope that if you voted for the nonsense of Brexit you are suitable ashamed and offended by what I say. Mmm… 

Better get moving. The Hook of Holland (and a ferry) awaits!  


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