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Old 05-19-11, 04:07 PM   #1
Chicago Al 
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Netherlands, Ireland, West of England...

...which would you pick for some very easy, scenic, low-stress, entry-level bike touring? Did I mention 'easy'?

My wife and I will have several weeks this summer with NO children, the first time in 20 years we'll be childless for more than a long weekend. Our honeymoon long ago was three months in Greece, with lots of village-to-village hiking in the mountains, but we are not in our 20s anymore. So we want to do some kind of active trip but at an easy pace...especially important for my wife.

I am a recreational rider, on vintage lightweights (I usually post in C&V) and haven't done any touring. Wife is only just getting into cycling after a hiatus since college; I'm finishing up a Bob Jackson mixte for her. I sold her on the idea of cycling only after showing her some pics on the C&V forum from a NL-based member of the paths near his home: flat, paved, scenic.

As it'll be late July when we can travel, we are aiming for Northern Europe, the UK or Ireland. We may take as long as three weeks so might be able to do two distinct stages.

We are looking at 'self guided' cycling tours, the kind you book through a company that makes arrangements, moves your bags, and rents you the bikes. Tulip Cycling in the Netherlands suggested a week long itinerary that looks nice, only about 30 miles a day so lots of time for sightseeing and Vermeer-gawking. And I have a query in to Iron Donkey in the UK about their routes in the W of England (Cotswolds) and Ireland. Another possibility is the Loire Valley in France, though somehow that does not excite me as much, I am imagining chateaux with immense parking lots full of tour buses.

If any of you have done anything similar I'd love to hear about it. I am sure this is way lightweight for many of you, not even really 'touring,' but it's a start.
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Old 05-19-11, 04:31 PM   #2
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the roads in the Netherlands are as flat as they come (its partially below sea level, protected by the Delta works), bike infrastructure is as good as it gets (they are very big on cycling); i don't think you can find any place in Europe easier to cycle than the Netherlands, apart from maybe a little headwind at the coast
in most cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, ... very modern, a lot of museums) they have separate lanes (not just a white line somewhere, real lanes) for cars, pedestrians and bikes in BOTH directions, thats 6 lanes, its crazy, a bike is considered equal to a car somewhat, just about every bike road crossing has a pole with directions and distances to nearby villages so you hardly even need a map too

on the other hand its not as green and wild as Ireland, its a lot more populated (but traffic is never a problem due to the infrastructure),
and the weather is a bit more stable (nothing compared to dry/hot Greece though)
if you like culture, seeing cities, beaches, harbors, easy roads, cheese, then the Netherlands won't let you down
if you prefer a little more adventure, longer stretches of green, steep cliffs, hills, guiness, and are not afraid of rain; in that case Ireland is the better choice

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Old 05-19-11, 04:48 PM   #3
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can only talk of Ireland as i live here.
can't promise you flat but certainly promise you nice people and loads of craic.(no that that kind) FUN,
iron donkey might be a good company to take a closer look at .
hey listen the queen of Britan is here at the moment and by all accounts she's having a ball.
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Old 05-19-11, 06:44 PM   #4
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I don't think the Loire is as bad as you think. Well, certainly not in March.

Western England has some nice countryside; a little hillier, depending on where you go. Devon and Cornwall are lovely (too lazy to google Cotswolds).

Geez, Holland is nice, too.

I mean, really, you can't go wrong here. I'd take the Loire.
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Old 05-19-11, 07:35 PM   #5
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First think about what interests you off the bike . . . wild scenery? Castles? Museums? Music? Food? The list can go on for a while. You definitely need to factor that into the decision. I've toured both Ireland and NW England and southern Scotland. The grades in Ireland are easier, you can avoid the truly mountainous areas if you like, the people in both places were incredibly friendly. They're both very expensive.

I'll say it again, figure out where you'd like to go regardless of transportation type and that will usually clarify the decision. Good luck, as others have said they're all great destinations.
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Old 05-20-11, 02:27 AM   #6
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The Cotswolds are a range of hills to the west of Oxford. They are low but very steep and known for their pretty stone-built villages. I grew up in a village there and Ive cycled a bit. I wouldn't call it easy cycling.
Its a very expensive part of the country to live in, full of successful actors, models and media folk and there are lots of tourists so you shouldn't expect a warm welcome everywhere.
I was in the Netherlands last year riding the North Sea coastal route. It was an interesting experience seeing such a bike-friendly country and culture. My favourite part was in the islands off the coast.
I think you will have a more enjoyable experience in the West of Ireland. Ive ridden from Cork up to Connemara and its all really good riding, friendly people, good food. Personally, I would avoid the Ring of Kerry in favour of the smaller peninsulars.

My part of the UK, East Anglia is much quieter and more genuinely rural than the Cotswolds, we have fairly flat, gently rolling terrain, endless small lanes and villages, a coastline famous for its birdlife and a wetland national park. There is a strong US connection through the many USAF bases and Im sure a lot of ex servicemen know the area well.
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Old 05-20-11, 05:43 AM   #7
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The Cotswolds are a range of hills to the west of Oxford. They are low but very steep and known for their pretty stone-built villages. I grew up in a village there and Ive cycled a bit. I wouldn't call it easy cycling.
Its a very expensive part of the country to live in, full of successful actors, models and media folk and there are lots of tourists so you shouldn't expect a warm welcome everywhere.
I was in the Netherlands last year riding the North Sea coastal route. It was an interesting experience seeing such a bike-friendly country and culture. My favourite part was in the islands off the coast.
I think you will have a more enjoyable experience in the West of Ireland. Ive ridden from Cork up to Connemara and its all really good riding, friendly people, good food. Personally, I would avoid the Ring of Kerry in favour of the smaller peninsulars.

My part of the UK, East Anglia is much quieter and more genuinely rural than the Cotswolds, we have fairly flat, gently rolling terrain, endless small lanes and villages, a coastline famous for its birdlife and a wetland national park. There is a strong US connection through the many USAF bases and Im sure a lot of ex servicemen know the area well.
i spent a week in watlington in the cotswalds last year what a beautiful place, took a trip into oxfort city to do the tourist thing well worth it beautiful city. the cycling was tough in places lots of long drags and some very very steep hills, if i'm not mistaken the cotswolds is bult up on 4 ledges and to get from one ledge to another you have to climb.but yeah the houses and most if not all the villages are built using cotswold stone really nice part of the world.have you any more info on east anglia thanks.
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Old 05-20-11, 08:37 AM   #8
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My family is planning our first fly-to-destination bike tour for this summer. I commute (kind of slowly) most days, but my wife and son are only recreational riders. None of us are performance-oriented riders.

We faced a similar question, with similar choices, and we picked the Netherlands after a good deal of research. Not only do they have good infrastructure on the road, but they have "Vrienden op de Fiets," a cycle-and hiker only network of quite inexpensive B&B's in peoples homes. (See http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl/ and look for the english version of the welcome page. It took us about two weeks to have are membership guide/directory shipped, so plan ahead.) There is also a large network of "natural campgrounds" which guarantee spots for campers arriving by bike. My wife in particular likes flat, so Holland seems like a good choice for us.

If this is your first tour and your wife doesn't have many hours in the saddle, then 30 miles/day may be more than you want to plan for. This is based on my own experience with my family on our earlier tours. No hills is nice, but you should also be prepared for lots of wind in flat areas. Unrelenting wind can be much more difficult than hills. NL in particular is known for wind. We plan on taking advantage of the excellent train network and ease of bringing bikes on trains. Instead of doing a loop, we will travel in only one direction (downwind based on prevailing winds) and use the train. The trains also make in easy to adjust your route mid-trip. Flexibility is also good for us novice tourers. By riding in only one direction, we will also get to see much more country in the same period.

Since we are travelling all the way to Europe, we are deliberately planning short (20-25 mile) days, with lots of time for exploration on and off our bike when we reach our daily destination. We'll save longer riding days for closer to home.

Have fun!

Jim
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Old 05-20-11, 08:41 AM   #9
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There are about 5 counties in East Anglia, Norfolk, Suffolk, North Essex, Cambridgshire and Linconshire.
Main cities are Cambridge and Norwich, both with good rail links to London (60-90mins)
Airport access is through Stansted International in Essex with rail to Cambridge then to Norwich.
Along the coast, the highlights are towns and villages at Aldborough, Cley, Blakeney, Wells.
Nature reserves at Minsmere, Cley, The Wash.
National parks: The Broads wetlands with boat hire, walkways over the marshes
Inland there are castles at Framlingham, castle Acre, castle Rising and Sandringham (the Queen's weekend home). More pretty villages than you can shake a stick at: eg, Lavenham and Flatford Mill, each comes with pub, church etc.
The area North of Cambridge into Lincolnshire, The Fens is dead flat drained marshland, similar to the dutch Polder (same Dutch engineers) and fairly boring to ride. The area around Thetford (SE Norfolk) coniferous forest and sandy heathland is rich in wildlife and has a neolithic flint mining area at Grimes Grave.
Cycling is along a network of small country lanes with some converted railway cycle routes. The North Sea Cycle Route goes from Harwich port up to Linconlshire. Best is to get an Ordnance Survey map since there are many ways to get from A to B. The 1:50,000 is detailed for exploration , there are few good 1:100,000 series maps

The climate is drier and warmer than the west of the country (drier and colder in winter) but has more summer thundestorms. We have had little rain for several months and things are starting to get parched.

The local accent is still quite strong and jokes about the genetic variance of the population abound. In hospitals, nurses have an acronym for medical notes: NFN.

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Old 05-20-11, 01:30 PM   #10
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Thanks for the responses. I think we can eliminate the Cotswolds...I already had an impression that they were, as we'd say in the US, 'yuppified,' and your comments confirm that. We will have to take a look at East Anglia though, that was not on our radar before. We spent 3 weeks in the UK a few years ago, got around quite a bit: Wales, Lake District, Lindisfarne, Yorkshire. But we only were in the East briefly, with an overnight at Cambridge. We visited an historic house (the Manor in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire) and there was a small canal right there with people going by in narrowboats, sometimes chatting with us as we ate our lunch on the banks.

Will look at the Loire valley too, but we will be there in July, not March.

The Netherlands is looking the most promising. If we take a full three weeks for this trip we could have 10 days for cycling and Amsterdamming, and another ten days somewhere else. Please keep the suggestions coming!

I know the Mosel valley, I walked, hitchhiked, and boated down through there from Luxembourg on my first trip to Europe as a callow young man in the early 80s. I don't know about cycling but it would be interesting to return.

BTW here's a route suggested by Tulip Cycling. (Their website proclaims cycling as the Second Favorite Tourist Activity in the NL!) Looks like a nice mixture of dunes, coastline, woodlands, canals, towns, etc., with options to stay extra days to explore. I googled maps and photos of these areas and it really looks ideal.

Haarlem (start)
(Zandvoort)
Leiden
(Wassenaar)
Delft
Gouda
(Kinderdijk)
Schoonhoven
(Oudewater, Montfoort)
Utrecht
Amersfoort
(Ijsselmeer, Naarden)
Weesp
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Old 05-20-11, 02:52 PM   #11
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East Anglia and Netherlands are regional cousins. For many centuries , Norfolk and Suffolk looked east across the North Sea for trade, architecture, technology, culture. It could be fun to combine them both. The ferry from Harwich to Den Haag runs day or nights so you could sleep your way through the journey. There is a good rail connection to Harwich and taking bikes on the ferry is easy.

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Old 05-20-11, 05:06 PM   #12
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MichaelW, that is a good thought. And it also solves a problem of where we'd fly into, because I'd be using miles for our flights (hopefully) and I have 400K of them on American, which does not fly to the NL...but does fly to London. Ferry or the Eurostar would make it easy to get to/from NL or Bruges, and we could come back via E Anglia or even Edinburgh. London would be a fine place to end up the trip too... I even have a favorite hotel there.
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Old 05-22-11, 05:33 AM   #13
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Will look at the Loire valley too, but we will be there in July, not March.
I meant that it wasn't overly touristy in March when I was there; I didn't want to promise anything about July when I didn't have first hand knowledge -- it may be completely overrun by then, for all I know.

The Mosel would be an option; it's flat along the river, though you might have to ride up a hill or two to get out of the valley to find campgrounds. It seems to have more biergartens / mile than any other German river I've cycled on (which aren't all that many, really, but enough to notice).
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Old 05-23-11, 04:08 PM   #14
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Thanks Pedaleur.

I think as this is a first for us we're going to concentrate the cycling on the NL, probably a bit longer than a week to make a leisurely loop as I described above. That plus Amsterdam before and after will be most of the trip. Any 'Stage 2' might be a few days in Paris or London if we fly to either of those cities...as it's redeeming miles that will be the deciding factor. If cycling NL works as well as I expect, we'll mount another trip in the future.
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Old 06-09-11, 09:32 AM   #15
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We are looking at 'self guided' cycling tours, the kind you book through a company that makes arrangements, moves your bags, and rents you the bikes. TULIP CYCLING in the Netherlands suggested a week long itinerary that looks nice, only about 30 miles a day so lots of ...
Even TULIP CYCLING browses the annual guides of 'Vrienden op de Fiets' to find accomodation for cyclists at reasonable prices ... You will definitely enjoy your choice for the families of this organisation. Some hosts will spoil you with attention and everything you need or ask, others will keep it more basic. Have fun.
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Old 06-09-11, 10:06 AM   #16
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Shiphol- AMS airport is the easiest airport I've used
[other than the small ones]

to just toss the cardboard boxes and ride away from..
Using the same bike paths the airport workers use to get to their jobs.

KLM will sell you a big box to pack your bikes in to fly home..
[Northwest, is the US partner with KLM]
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Old 06-09-11, 01:54 PM   #17
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Shiphol- AMS airport
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Old 06-09-11, 03:48 PM   #18
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Twice, went towards Haarlem, to Zandvoort, & a campground there ,
got me a good nights sleep and over jet-lag .
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Old 06-09-11, 05:20 PM   #19
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My wife and I did a 9-day tour in western Ireland with Iron Donkey last August and I can't praise them too highly. Tony and Wilma planned great routes, booked good lodging, and helped me find a replacement tire for my Bike Friday.

We went from Ennis to Westport (the Connemara and the Burren tour, except that we omitted the first night in Galway and added one in Westport). There were a few hills--nothing too bad, but definitely more than the Netherlands! We live in western Massachusetts, though, so we're used to moderate hills.

We're doing a 7-day tour at the end of this month with Tulip Cycling: Deventer to Meppel via Harderwijk, Amersfoort, Weesp, Volendam, Enkhuizen, Stavoren, and Lemmer.

I kept a journal of last year's tour on Crazyguy and will keep one this year on the Dutch tour; if you'd like to read them to get an idea of what Ireland was like, go to crazyguyonabike.com and search for brianogilvie (my user ID).
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Old 06-10-11, 01:22 PM   #20
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Welcome

First post...

I am Dutch, if you want I can help you plan a nice route.

Our biking infrastructure is real nice.

Our whole country is littered with bike specifik lanes and routes.

We call it `knooppunten` which is Dutch for intersections, roughly translated.

You can plan your route trough these intersections, following mostly bikelanes and nice scenery.


The route you wanted to cycle is nice, but not great. The Eastern parts of our country is also very nice and a lot less crowded.

If you like I can give you tips.

You and your wife are welcome to visit my family.


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