It had to happen… I’m injured! After cheating by taking the Eurostar to Brussels I decided to make up for my indolence by making the journey from Amsterdam to Brussels in two days. No training. No prepping. I made it but not without doing some damage to my left knee. It was never my intention to go that fast. I had in fact arranged to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in ages in Rotterdam, a film director by the name of Ben Strebel whom I went to university with. Unfortunately due to his busy schedule, he had to fly to Korea at short notice, the precious time he has in Europe he spends with another old friend and his fiancee Natasha.
I was disappointed but perhaps I might catch up with him this summer in Italy. Who knows. After a few rejections on Couchsurfing and two no replies on Warmshowers I’m starting to wonder if my initial message pitch is wrong or if my hairstyle is putting people off. For those who don’t know both sites are for budget travellers looking for a couch or a warm shower, does what it says on the tin really. I’ll keep trying but in the meantime wild camping will be the best way for me to keep costs down when I don’t have a host.
Luckily I do have a host in Amsterdam, the very kind Florian de Munique, a half German half Italian capoeirista who I was introduced to by a former colleague, the wonderful Angelica Quintero also a capoeira friend. Who needs couchsurfing when you have capoeira to unite people! He and his wife have kindly put me up for a few days while I let my knee recover.
I have to thank my bestie Danae Anastopoulos for also having me for three days in her magnificent Brussels townhouse. I got the full family experience with her two amazing kids Mia and Leander. I was treated to some great conversations over raclette and other nibbles about the ridiculousness of Britain leaving the EU, they both work for the Commission/Parliament/Legal Ombudsman (I’m British to me it’s all the same) so there is a natural bias there. I have to say though that I agree wholeheartedly with their sentiments… Who would give up the ability to travel freely, trade freely and generally be on a level playing field with the continent for the sake of being able to measure a banana they way you want. And screw those people who say immigration needs to be controlled. Adam Smith himself said free movement of people balances out employment differences over time (Book 1 Chapter 10, Wealth of Nations in case you’re interested). I’m the son of an immigrant and an Englishman. By the way Boris, if you happen to be reading, I would rather the Germans and French rule Europe than ever have you in any position of power again.
So some of you might be wondering why I’m heading north instead of south-east if my destination is Singapore. Well in short I’m afraid of hills… no joke, I cycled in Greece and it was killer I wanted a gentle start and the flat landscape of Holland seemed like a perfect place to begin. Too perfect because the flatness is deceptive you do in fact peddle on average more because coasting isn’t really an option, there are no hills to coast down! For this reason I overestimated what I could do. On the first day I managed 52 miles to a town called Breda and on the second day, after my cancelled appointment with Ben, I pushed on another 80 miles to Amsterdam.
On the plus side I saw the some of the most amazing countryside, perfectly manicured gardens, the weird and wonderful Dutch architecture where very few houses are built to look exactly the same. There is something incredible about a country you can explore entirely by bicycle without fear of HGVs and crazy drivers. Anyway even when you hit the rare road you have to share with cars everyone in Holland owns a bike so they are a hundred times more considerate. I did have a one hairy moment where Google Maps lead me on to an up-ramp to a bridge but didn’t show me the correct cyclepath. A Harley Davidson pulled up next to me and a bearded Dutchman started asking me about why I was on the road in Dutch. I understood what he was trying to tell me as I could clearly see the cycle path. I replied in English and he replied in Dutch until after five minutes into the exchange I finally said I couldn’t bloody understand him! With that cleared up I was on my way again.
On my final approach to Amsterdam I was prepared for dismal industrial entrance past rows of commercial buildings, truckstops and so forth as I had seen in Thessaloniki in Greece. Instead I was greeted with the longest stretch of green parkland I’ve ever seen upon entering any city – even the truck depots were hidden behind perfectly kept hedges. To sum up the ride was magnificent and, apart from the fact that it was a little too ambitious for the second day, it was a great start to my little jaunt to Singapore.