The Netherlands: Utrecht, and the End of Phase One

When I flew out New Zealand to begin this trip, I didn’t have a solid plan, but I soon set a goal for myself. When I was in South East Asia, I decided I wanted to make it to The Netherlands, where my family is from and one of my favourite places, by land.

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I’d like to say that I’ve achieved that goal since my first stop, Thailand, but there are a couple of reasons I can’t. When I was with my mate Phil in Vietnam, we took a couple of flights due to time constraints and me being sick. However, once in Hanoi, Vietnam, I was determined to travel by only land or sea until I hit the Motherland.

If you’ve been following this blog you might know that my land-trek was interrupted one other time, when I lost my passport in Russia, and had to get an emergency passport to Amsterdam to get a new one. This pissed me off something chronic; not because of the hassle involved in running around getting paperwork, dealing with hopeless, corrupt Russian cops or communicating with dropkick insurance claims advisers, but because it broke my streak and I lost my passport with my visas and stamps.

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Alas, shit does happen and other than that minor incident I made it to The Netherlands, which feels like somewhat of an accomplishment. I decided to try and roughly calculate how many KM’s I’ve done by land.

From Hanoi to Moscow, taking into account only major trips between stopover towns and cities that I can remember, I crossed 22,377 km’s. Once I flew back into Kiev, Ukraine, from Amsterdam with my new passport I travelled a further 5,705 km to Amsterdam. Counting the travel from the beginning of my trip in Thailand through to Saigon, where I flew via Da Nang to Ha Noi, adds an extra 2,479 to the total, giving me a grand total of…

30,561

…kilometres done by car, tuk tuk, motorbike, train, bus or boat. Fuck yeah! Now I try and track down these elusive ‘cheap’ flights within Europe that everyone keeps talking about..

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I needed to post a photo of this bad boy, which is the first thing I purchase every time I arrive in The Netherlands. A beef goulash croquette. This was my prize. It was every bit as rewarding as I was expecting; 1,000 calories in 3 bites has never tasted so good.

Upon arriving at Amsterdam Centraal station after spending 6 hours sitting on the floor of a train (fuck you very much, Deutsche Bahn), I caught up with some friends for dinner, collected my bicycle and made my way to Utrecht on the Sprinter. Utrecht is where my cousin Maarten lives, a guy who I haven’t seen in some time and has just moved back from Oslo. Utrecht is a student town 27 minutes on the train from Amsterdam, and is similar to the capital in many ways, but smaller and without the tourists.

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This was another moment I was looking forward to, catch up beers with my cousin and best mate. We stopped in for a pint on the way home from the train station and after 7 I unlocked another national Dutch qualification: ‘Cycle home rat-faced at midnight with 25 kilos of luggage on the front of your bike. ‘

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As above, Utrecht has most of what Amsterdam has got to offer, including numerous canals. You don’t often see this in Amsterdam, though; pubs and restaurants right next to the water. The town has a great vibe to it, helped in a big way by the number of students living here.

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Kiwi Drum and Bass hitting Utrecht next week!

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…and Kiwi craft beer to be found in little Dutch corner cafes.

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It’s good to be back on the bike. In case you’ve never seen one, below is an example of the infrastructure dedicated to cyclists: special bins on the side of the paths to aim your empty can into as you cruise along.

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It’s always special meeting more of my extended family for the first time. I met Maarten’s father Paul (my Dad’s cousin) for the first time and had a grand old time.

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As well as chilling out with friends and family, I also attended the infamous Amsterdam Gay Pride parade. I’ll cover this in another post on its own which won’t be far away.

It feels good to finally be on this side of the world, 30,000 km’s later, but I’ve still got loads of places to visit and things to do. On my list I’ve still got London, Ireland,  France, Spain, Ibiza, Oktoberfest, Berlin, Iran and several others to knock off before I even think about heading back to New Zealand. Bring it on!

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– Damo

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