We built our Europe adventure partly around our epic bike tour from Haarlem to Bruges via Holland Bike Tours. Our originally scheduled tour was supposed to start in April of 2020, and now in our third iteration we are finally on the road with them.

Prepping for the bike tour Prepping for the bike tour

“With them” isn’t quite accurate: their tours are without guides but with varying levels of support. We paid extra for some stuff, stuck with the basics for others. Here’s a breakdown:

  • We upgraded to e-Bikes (pedal assist), partly because of the unknown (weather, winds) and partly because we have at least one significant extra side trip we want to make.
  • We stuck to the standard hotel offering, which we know will be OK for us cheapskate travelers
  • We are carrying all of our gear with us for the 7 days, with the only luggage transport being our two backpacks plus a few things we left out of our travel paneers to be delivered to Bruges at the end of the trip.

The bikes have paneers with ample room for our gear, and my bike has a GPS trip computer with pre-loaded navigation tracks for each day of the trip. It is non-trivial navigating the bike paths and roads, but the computer does a great job of keeping us on track and the more we ride the more we get used to the guidance.

Tulip fields in Holland Tulip fields in Holland

Weather and season combined for a perfect first day riding through the heart of tulip country as we made the short trek from Haarlem to Leiden. Almost as soon as we exited the suburbs of Amsterdam we started to see tulip fields, with some of them appearing to come into full bloom on the very day of our ride. It is hard to describe the intense color fields that we saw.

River of flowers at Keukenhof River of flowers at Keukenhof

Julie thought ahead and got tickets a while back for the Keukenhof, aka the Garden of Europe, which ended up being sold out for the entire weekend. The skies were blue, temperatures in the low 60s, and it seemed as if every tourist and local in Holland converged on the Disneyland of flower gardens.

It was a bit much for me at times, but the variety of flowers we saw and the color combinations their gardeners created made it well worth it. We were happy to have brought our lunch with us as the lines for food were long everywhere. Even worse, as we rode away in our stress-free bikes we witnessed lines of cars stranded that likely were 2-3km long. Many were just standing outside their cars, trying to get into it or just bypass the Keukenhof area. Julie and I agree that they likely will need to implement a Zion-like parking hub and shuttle bus system in the future to handle the traffic.

You probably know that most of the low countries (Netherlands and Belgium) are built on reclaimed land (dykes, pumps, sea walls, polder land, etc.). It is hard to understand how this translate into local geography until you venture in to the rural areas and see so many houses surrounded by canals and waterways. The water is so integrated into the topography.

Canal in Leiden Canal in Leiden

Our first night was in Leiden, college town and home of Rembrandt. It is still touristy, not on the scale of Amsterdam, but we enjoyed the small town break as we’ve been hopping from big city to big city. We delayed our start the next morning to visit the tiny but magical Museum de Lakenhal, with a collection of Dutch masters, contemporary art (pointillists, Mondrian school), and examples from the famous Leiden textile manufacturing age.