Day 1. Hoek van Holland to Egmond aan Zee.

Distance Cycled 110km. Average 18.3km/h Max 39.4km/h.

We awoke early, to the dawn chorus of the toilet flushing at six thirty. So an early breakfast it was to be. We had plenty of time and had decided to take the 08-37 train to Rotterdam and the first stop train to Hoek van Holland. We entered Utrecht Centraal via the taxi rank as usual, and headed towards the ticket machines. Damae checked that it was a 'feestdag' for the NS which meant we could take our bikes on the trains before nine in the morning, and also get cheap tickets using our 'Voordeelurenkaart' (reduction pass). It was so and we duly bought three singles and three bike tickets to Hoek van Holland.

Space in most Dutch trains, for bikes is at a premium except when the special summer bike carriages are brought into use. Whilst Karen's tiny mountain bike went in fine with bags on, Damae and Stan had to pull all their bags off and throw them in around the bikes. This was not a major problem and we fortunately found seats with a view through to the cycle space.

So there we were on a commuter train to Rotterdam. I used to work in Rotterdam and travelled back and forth whilst they were busy doubling the number of lines. This is now mostly finished and it was nice to see the progress that has been made. Forty minutes later we arrived in Rotterdam Centraal and lifted the bikes out and Stan and Damae threw their Ortliebs back on the bikes.

We walked to the lift to find it was covered in 'Defect' stickers. So a minus point to the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, and we had to wheel our bikes down the stairs using the bike grooves at the side of the stairs. Once down we found platform 1 and chose to use the escalators to get up. Going up an escalator with a fully laden bike is rather less exciting than going down.

At the top of the stairs was an OV-chipcard (an electronic smart card for tickets) enabled set of barriers reminiscent of the London Underground. After pushing tickets into slots we got the doors to open and were on the platform.

The train arrived a few minutes later, and we were pleased to see a large bike compartment in the stopping train. Our three bikes went in easily with the bags on and we settled down for the trip to the Hoek. The journey passed uneventfully and on arriving we quickly got the bikes off the train and found the route immediately, the signs being visible from the platform. We were underway and it was only a quarter past ten.

The first section ran through suburban areas. I recognised the road into port having used the ferry a few times before. Then into unknown terrain. Soon after leaving the town we ended up on a dyke and discovered that we had a good tailwind and the sun was shining. We stopped to remove clothing as we all had warmed up somewhat. After this short stop, we raced on through the Dutch countryside, past greenhouse complexes and farms. I noticed one farm where they specialised in radishes with a small stall facing the cycle path. Well I suppose you have to have your unique selling point.

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