After crossing an incredibly long causeway, we finally got closer to the North Sea coast of the Netherlands. On top of what we had expected, namely wide sand beaches and strong wind (mostly in the opposed direction), we encountered soft dune landscapes and even some hills. The variety of plants and animals was surprising: All kinds of grass, pine trees, and bushes, some with colorful flowers, as well as impressive galloway cattle and graceful deer. We were happy to meet Martine, who introduced us to the beautiful town of Haarlem and to some delicious homemade Dutch food.
On day 187, we walked the Afsluitdijk. We knew that crossing this causeway would take the whole day, and that we would be walking in the dense fog, with almost no distractions other than listening to the sound of hundreds of vehicles making their way to the other side. What could have easily been one of the most boring hikes in our whole trip, turned out to be a beautiful long walk and in fact is one of the favorite memories of our adventure.
In the beginning, we had some difficulties in finding the right access to the bike path and got quite a fright when a bus came out of the thick fog, passing only a meter near us. We were taking pictures at that moment and therefore stood at the side of what we thought to be a lane without motorized traffic. Otherwise, that day wouldn’t have had a happy ending.
From then on, things got better and better. The fog slowly lifted and revealed a stunning view of the lJsselmeer to our left and the open sea to our right; we finally found the bike path, which we had for ourselves for the entire day (ok, three cyclists passed us – no more buses, though!); the sun was shining bright and followed us along. We left the causeway with a beautiful sunset, which gave us motivation to finish the last kilometers until Den Oever in the province of North Holland. When we arrived, we had repeated our distance record of 34 km (first time in Latvia, on the way to Riga), and still had energy to walk to a small restaurant to celebrate our achievement!
As the E9 was taking us inland for the next two days, we said goodbye to the coast and walked on straight roads through the vast fields and alongside irrigation canals and lagoons. Due to the flat surface and proximity of the sea, we saw an abundance of windmills those days – old-fashioned and modern.
In Callantsoog, we were back at the seafront and started day 190 of our hike the way we like it most: Hiking on a long straight beach with compact sand and enjoying the infinite view. Later, we had a change of scenery and found ourselves walking in an unexpected green and hilly area – Kennemerland, inhabited by huge galloway cattle and one of the few forest areas at the Dutch coast. Having walked the whole day with fairly good weather, we were caught by surprise by heavy rain starting about 500m before our lodging. We arrived soaking wet; good we still had dry clothes in our backpacks!
The next day, we continued following the coast directly on the beach or through the dunes, protected from the wind. Another sudden rain convinced us to enter a beach café and to wait for the worst to pass, drinking hot coffee and enjoying apple pie and sausage. We put all our rain gear on and went out, back to the beach, where a strong headwind (Gegenwind) made our red capes fly and caused everybody passing by to wonder why we were not walking the other way, with the wind in our favor. A lady stopped us to tell that she was absolutely fascinated by our image from far away: “Two red birds” flying along the coast.
Rain and clouds gave place to beautiful sunshine (only the wind continued against us) and finally we made it to Wijk aan Zee. Here, we were picked up by Martine, who had invited us to stay at her place. To call Martine an old friend is both correct and false. We had spent one day together three years earlier, when we were traveling in China and she was in the beginning of a one-year around-the-world-trip with her boyfriend. It was this couple who inspired us to make a pause in our hectic lives and travel when they said: “Nobody is asking you to go for a long trip; nobody is waiting for you to do it. If you want to travel, make it possible and go.” And now we were sitting in her living room, talking about life with her and her friend, and enjoying the wonderful dishes they had prepared. Small and amazing world.
Day 192 was a well-deserved rest day! The three of us slept until late, had a long breakfast together, and made plans for the day. Martine recommended visiting Haarlem, a wonderful picturesque town, which due to its proximity to Amsterdam doesn’t get the attention it deserves (luckily for the ones who do visit!). Our host had no doubt how we would get there: Take the bikes to the train station and the train to Haarlem. The fact that she had two bikes for three adults was no obstacle at all: One sat on the carrier of the more sturdy bike, and off we went. Moiken still remembered doing that in her teenage years in Berlin, but 30 years later, it was quite a challenge. We somehow made it to the train station and stored the bikes in an underground garage which would cause envy to any Park-and-Ride commuter anywhere in the world. The train ride was a more relaxing experience and strolling through the streets and along the canals of Haarlem was great fun.
On the following day, it was “back to work” for all of us. Martine dropped us off in Wijk aan Zee, where we walked along a huge industrial area, before we crossed the North Sea Canal on a ferry and returned to a greener environment. We were now hiking in the National Park of South Kennemerland, from where we took a small detour to Haarlem to spend the night. Unfortunately, we were too tired to further explore the town’s pretty streets and canals, but we had a good rest for the next day.
Our way led us back into the green areas of the Amsterdam region and the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen were a great surprise: In between dozens of canals, serving as a water reservoir for the metropolis, we were walking through a forest, full of groups of deer. It was so many of them, and they were so used to the proximity of humans, that they hardly moved away when we passed. This was the only time on our trip that we had all the time in the world to take pictures of grazing hinds and stags proudly showing off their antlers.
There was a bit more of wildlife to see the following day, but soon we were walking at the beach again, admiring seagulls and trying to count the razor clams on the sand. We strolled along the posh beach promenade of Noordwijk aan Zee, before we finally arrived in Katwijk, a calm beach resort town at the North Sea.
We were excited to leave the backpacks in the corner for a few days, as we had a special day to celebrate and were going to Amsterdam for a long weekend!