June 10 – Tuesday. We stored the rental bikes in the hotel basement lockup overnight so we didn’t have to make the 1 km trek back to the shop in the morning. As such, we were able to mount up shortly after 0900 under warm, sunny skies and head southwest out of Leiden on our way to the coast, then inland to The Hague. We skirted to the south of the Valkenburg Naval Air Base, with nary a plane to be heard or seen, on nearly abandoned trails. After the holiday long weekend, most locals were back at work and the trails were left mainly to the tourists. Eleven kilometres later we were back in the dunes area, heading south, just a kilometre east of the North Sea. We were on a fietsroute (specifically, the Noordzee Route), one of the many long distance cycle trails, as opposed to the short commuting trails, that run throughout the country. It was not only scenic, with the sand hills and greenery, but the trail itself was pretty fancy, constructed of well laid cross-hatched brickwork. Talk about your labour-intensive project!
The brick trail led us into the Scheveningen area of Den Haag, an attractive seaside resort. We locked our bikes up on a main street across from a very imposing building, the Dutch flag fluttering off many of it’s domes and turrets. I initially thought that Ad was going to show us some high-profile government building but it turned out to be a 5-star hotel, the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel. Wanting to get to the beach just beyond it and not seeing a way around, we opted to just traipse through their lobby – in the front door and out the back. Passing by the hotel dining room, I was reminded of Versailles by the opulence of the place! Ad told us that the hotel was the first concert venue for the Rolling Stones in Holland, back in 1964. A star plaque was inlaid in the back deck of the hotel to commemorate the event (even though the concert had spawned a riot), as well as ones for Golden Earring and Bon Jovi.
The size of the beach was immense, even larger than the beaches of Katwijk and Noordwijk! With it being a regular workday, there were very few locals and tourists to clutter it up. An out of commission (bankrupt) boardwalk blocked the horizon to the north but the south was just an expanse of empty well-groomed beach, sea and sky. What a summer playground!
A little more than an hour later, we were off again. After a few kilometres, we passed another war monument. But this time, instead of honouring fallen foreign soldiers, this monument honoured Dutch citizens. It was The Indies Monument, erected in memory of all Dutch citizens and soldiers who died in battle, in prison camps or during forced labour during World War II as a result of the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. Ad said that, although he had seen it many times on TV in ceremonies, he had never seen it in person. It was ironic that, by leading a bunch of Canadians around his country, he too was able to experience some of his country’s history.
Not long after that, we came to the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice – the principal judiciary of the United Nations. We were not allowed in the building, or even onto the gated grounds, but it did have an interesting public museum attached that explained the history of the place and it’s function in international affairs.
Ad gave us 2.5 hours in downtown Den Haag to check the place out. We got maps from a visitor’s info kiosk but, rather than explore museums, Gerry and I spent the time looking for bike stores and having coffee/lunch. The sky had been darkening all morning and, by the time we were set loose in the city, the rain started coming down. Although we visited about half a dozen bike shops and sporting goods stores, we were unsuccessful finding jerseys that were identifiably Dutch. Ad later told us that, unlike the ubiquitous orange Holland football jerseys, the Dutch do not trumpet their country on cycling apparel. Both Ad and Tom commented on the number of Canada jerseys that our group wore, noting that Canadians like to be recognized as such (we told them that we do that so we wouldn’t be confused with Americans). We did, however, find a very comfortable coffee shop and went there twice (friendly and attractive waitress) to wait out the rain.
When we met Ad back at our appointed meeting place, he told me to get on my bike and follow him – he had found a bike store for me about a 5-minute ride away, but they were closing and we had to hurry! Biking in the city, especially a Dutch city, is not for the faint of heart. The locals know all the rules and know where they are going. Trying to follow Ad, speeding down rain-slicked sidewalks, lanes, and roads busy with traffic, took my riding experience there to another level altogether. Unfortunately, although the store did have some nice looking jerseys, none were in my size. So back we sped to our meeting place where everyone was now waiting for us in a light drizzle.
The 90-minute trip back to Leiden was damp but not cold, fortunately. The only mishap was a tube with a slow leak, requiring Ad to stop periodically to pump it up. Thankfully, it never went completely flat.
Rode: 46 km