My alarm went off at 7am on Sunday. At any other time of year, getting up would have been a challenge. Thanks to the long days that the Dutch latitude (52 degrees) bestows us, it was palatable. In what's becoming a weekend routine, I strapped my lunch and dry clothes on the back of my bike and swung a sizable duffle bag of kayak gear over my shoulder. It always takes a bit of extra effort to get the bike moving when it's loaded down this way. But thanks to the lack of topographic variability, the 12 minute bike ride to the kayak club is easy once you're rolling. Some aspects of Dutch life just need reframing to see the bright side.
I finally did it! I went sea kayaking in the Netherlands. For the last ~3 years I've been enjoying the vast network of inland rivers and canals that the Netherlands and Belgium have to offer. But without my own boat and a group of skilled paddlers nearby, sea kayaking has been just out of reach.
It felt particularly meaningful when I realized this was also the first time I'd been kayaking on either the Oosterschelde or the Westerschelde. The last sentence of my personal statement for Fulbright - the research grant that brought me to Europe in the first place - was "Enabled by my fluent Dutch, I also look forward to hearing the perspectives of local sea kayakers intimately familiar with the Dutch waterways, while riding the tides of the Oosterschelde and Westerschelde." Though it came 3 years late, it went exactly how I'd hoped. Even better, because if you'd dropped me in a group of Dutch kayakers (with their Dutch accents) 3 years ago, I wouldn't have understood anything!
On top of all that, this ended up being my longest kayaking trip ever (just barely)...
My friends are real troopers. The forecast warned of intense rain, and that's exactly what we got. But we persevered! From downtown Utrecht to a pancake house about 6.5 km southeast of the city, Sander, Bonnie, and I paddled through almost continuous rain. But the "pancakes," if you can even call them that, were worth the soaking.
Fries from the sky, brewery by boat, Japanese gardens, and tunnels galore: Why the Hague, Netherlands, is a kayaking oasis.
How is it possible? How did I live in Delft for a year and never discover the wonderful kayaking oasis of The Hague? The horn you toot to request a kayak rental, free candy thrown at you by a friendly (?) passerby, fries that are lowered down to you by rope and pulley, gorgeous parks, a local brewery stop, and much more.
After starting out the weekend with a fantastic cabrewing tour of Lauwersmeer, it was rise-and-shine at 6am on Sunday for a truly Dutch adventure: WADLOPEN. Wad = mudflat, lopen = walking (in Dutch. In Flemish it means running, which would have been ridiculous). While I've done my fair share of mudflat walking as part of my job in California and the Netherlands, I've never attempted it in a recreational way. We put on our rainbow basketball shoes and trudged 16km across bare mudflat to get to Schiermonnikoog, the easternmost Frisian Island in the Netherlands.
Last weekend some Delft friends and I plopped ourselves into a couple canoes for a cabrewing adventure on Lauwersmeer - a lake adjacent to the Wadden Sea, about 45 minutes north of Groningen. It was my first time sleeping in a tent in almost a year (so sad), and my first time in a canoe since long before moving to Europe. Why don't I do this more often? It was fantastic.
I also did some Water Nerd research about Lauwersmeer, and it has quite an interesting/complicated history of floods, poldering, and damming. If you just want to read about that, you can skip to the Water Nerd section.
Giethoorn is an adorable and quaint town way up north in the Netherlands - almost in Friesland. As you can see in the photo above, it's a dense network of channels, footbridges (180!), and thatch-roofed houses that can often only be reached by boat or on foot. The locals (about 3000 of them) travel over their personal bridges and on punters (boats you push along with a stick, like in Venice). I'd visited this town a few times before (it's a 15 minute bike ride from HJ's parents' house) but never floated along its canals. Until now!
I recently went through the exercise of contacting a bunch of kayak rental places in Belgium (and nearby) to see if they rent kayaks in winter. Here's what I found, in case you're also having a wintery kayak craving. If I've missed any rental shops, I would love to hear from you! You can contact me here.
I received a funny range of answers when I contacted the various shops, spanning from "of course we do!" to "of course we don't!". I understand both of these responses, as a renter unfamiliar with cold weather paddling can be quite a safety hazard, but kayaking is awesome so we should still do it in the winter.
I've mapped all the rental shops that I could find below, with symbols representing whether or not they provide rentals in the winter! Click on an icon to see the name, address, and website of the shop.
Green = Open for rentals in winter
Yellow = Limited winter rentals (group size minimum or limited days)
Red = No winter rentals (most closed November - March)
White = Unknown (contacted, no response yet)
Disclaimer: This summary is based on email conversations that I had with various kayak rental companies in early December, 2015. Please contact a company or check their website to confirm the details if you are planning to rent. Also, if you're planning to paddle in winter, make sure you're dressed for immersion and always wearing a PFD. Paddle safe!
Update (May 2016): I've now added all the kayak rental shops I can find in Belgium. There are still quite a few to be added in the Netherlands. If you know of a good kayak rental shap that is not shown here, please send me their website!
Map of kayak rentals in Belgium and the Netherlands
Click the icons for more information.
Utrecht is a big city located in the middle of the Netherlands. It's rich in culture - apparently second only to Amsterdam - and a central point for transportation. With a student population of 30,000, it's definitely a lively college town. As we paddled through the city, we saw many bikes dangling perilously over the canal, held only in place by their locks...
Alwin (fellow member of the Windhappers kayak club) and I spent Thursday afternoon kayaking around the city of Leiden. I haven't been to Leiden before, so I'm happy I got to visit before my departure from the Netherlands in a week. It's similar to Delft in size and ambiance - a small city surrounded and divided by canals, with many old buildings lining its narrow streets.
This is a blog about exploring the outdoors (mostly by kayak), traveling, trip planning, and coastal engineering. It currently focuses on kayaking in the Netherlands and Belgium, but previous posts cover Upstate New York, California, and much more. See the Complete List of Blog Posts for a history of the site. Looking for something specific? Search the site here.
In addition to the blog, check out the Water Nerd section, where I write about coastal engineering and hydrology.
Email updates on new blog posts, about once per month.
Click the "Read More" link at the bottom of each summary for more photos, to see an interactive map of the route, and to read about the adventure.
Maps in each blog post: Click the icons to learn more about the launch site (amenities) and destinations. Click the square in the bottom-left corner to see an aerial photo behind the route.