Cycling the Sights (Holland)
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Sun, 11/23/2008 3:22 PM |
The Dutch often use pedal power to get around their low-lying country. Lois Simon and her family get on their bikes to see the sights the native way.
If ever a country was tailor-made for cycling, it is the Netherlands. The name “Nederland” refers to the Lowlands and this compact country, whose tallest peak “The Vaalserberg” is only 322 meters high, certainly seems an ideal land to explore on two wheels.
Cyclists are at the forefront of town planning considerations and the country is amply supplied with dedicated cycle lanes and even special bicycle traffic lights. And where there aren’t such lanes, Dutch motorists are well trained to keep a wary eye out for cyclists. The bicycle is, after all, a famous icon of this tiny nation.
Despite not being blessed with the kindest of climates, the Dutch cycle year round and consider cycling a major form of transport. With the high price of gas, one can understand the appeal of this free mode of getting from A to B. As a tourist, the ample bicycle rental shops throughout the main cities allow visitors to participate in the Dutch national pastime.
On a recent visit to Holland, our family rented bicycles in Amsterdam for three days. We were fortunate to strike some of the best days of summer and explored the backstreets of this famous city. Amsterdammers and tourists alike were dining alfresco at the numerous cafés in the winding streets and the canal boats were doing a brisk trade. As a flat and compact city, all the main tourist attractions and museums are easily reachable by bike. So much to see, so little time.
At the top of our list were the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, conveniently located near each other bordering the Museumplein. Although only a small part of the magnificent Rijksmuseum is currently open, all the main paintings, including Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch”, are on display, showcasing the height of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. Once renovations are complete in 2010, the entire building will again be open to the public.
Pausing in front of the original entrance to the Rijksmuseum, we snapped a few photos in the newly erected “I Amsterdam” lettering, the new symbol for promoting Amsterdam and its current catchphrase. From there it is a short stroll to the Van Gogh Museum, which houses an extensive collection of one of Holland’s most famous sons. If you are visiting with children, ask for the “Treasure Hunt” list for your budding art lovers, a fun and informative way for them to learn more about the paintings in the collection.
Also highly recommended for families is a visit to the NEMO Science and Technology center located on the water’s edge to the right of Central Station. There are some fairly major renovations underway in front of the station and the signage is a little confusing, so it would pay to ask the way to NEMO. Inside there is a treasure trove of fun and informative activities to keep adults and children alike amused for hours.
Our three days on bikes passed too quickly. Amsterdam has such a wealth of museums, parks and galleries that days and days would be required to visit just the main attractions. That’s without allowing time to cruise the city on the canal boats, take a leisurely stroll to admire the 17th century architecture or explore the seedier side of Amsterdam’s claim to fame. But for us, there was more of Holland to explore on bikes.
Although Holland is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, I always have a greater sense of space when I am there than I did in all the years I lived in Asia. If the crowded western regions are neatly packed with compact houses and winding streets, then areas in the east of Holland allow the average Dutch the chance to remove themselves from the throngs and enjoy a number of national parks preserved for the nation. And, of course, taking you bike along for a strenuous workout is almost obligatory.
Heading off from the eastern city of Arnhem, it was a short drive to the entrance of the Hoge Veluwe National Park on our way to visit the Kröller-Müller Museum. Parking at the entrance, we selected bicycles available for free to tour the park’s extensive paths. From there it was a leisurely 11-kilometer ride through heather fields and wooded areas. At one point we passed through sand dunes, a remnant of the ice age. There were a few gentle inclines to tackle and a bit of a headwind on the home stretch but all in all the ride was not too challenging.
Arriving at the Kröller-Müller Museum, we caught a glimpse of some of the unusual outdoor art sculptures that dot the grounds. The building houses the extensive collection assembled by Helene Kröller-Müller and gifted to the people of Holland in a breathtaking gesture of philanthropy. The collection includes 180 drawings and 87 paintings by Van Gogh. If you are an ardent fan of his work then many of the major pieces not found at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam may be found here. The collection is complemented by pieces by Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Piet Mondrian.
The Dutch seem to have a gift for engaging and introducing children to the art world and again a “Treasure Map” was available for our children to learn more about some of the famous paintings on display. Perhaps the Dutch fully understand that starting early is the key to appreciating such fine works of art.
Heading outside into the manicured grounds, we paused to photograph the numerous statues in the 25-hectare sculpture garden (we didn’t make it all the way round). The size and scope of some of the pieces was impressive. A visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum and the surrounding Hoge Veluwe park provides a unique combination of art appreciation and outdoor exercise – thoroughly enjoyable.
For additional information on Amsterdam, visit www.iamsterdam.com, which includes details about the “I Amsterdam” discount card. More details about the Kröller-Müller Museum are available at www.kmm.nl; see also www.hogeveluwe.nl.