You read me, so you know I love the Baltic. Now the important question is: Can you really love the North Sea when you love the Baltic? My hometown Hamburg is approximately the same distance from either sea. Most of my family and friends have a clear preference. It is either North or Baltic Sea. You can’t have ‘em both. My sister once phrased it as follows: “I like the North Sea better than the Baltic, because I like the Elbe River better than the Alster.” For someone from Hamburg, that makes immediate sense. Baltic Sea and Alster River are calm and domesticated, while Elbe River and North Sea are moody, wild and untamed. Now here’s the kind of girl I am: I like the Baltic Sea and the Elbe River. I’m annoying. I want it all.
Granted I hadn’t been to the North Sea in a very long time. You see, as opposed to the Baltic Sea, it is not in Central Eastern Europe which made it hard to integrate it into my travel schedule. But when Jan and I did our trip to Amsterdam, we agreed that we would absolutely have to rent bikes at some point, and where prettier to do that than at the coast. So on the second day in the big city we took the car out to Zandvoort, found rental bikes quickly (and very decently priced at 10€ per day per person) and off we went.
The town of Zandvoort is a beach resort, the likes of which I know from Germany (and from both teh North and the Baltic Sea) – too many buildings with questionable aesthetics line the coast and make the view from the beach inland rather grey. Looking out to see is grand though. And the good thing about this being a town with good infrastructure is that there are also decently tarmaced bike trails. They lead us out of the immediate town and into the National Park Zuid Kennemerland.
The soft up and down of grown-over sanddunes. The width of the clear blue sky sprinkled with solid-looking clouds. The fresh air and the smell of the sea. The wind in my hair as I speed up on the bike. There is no route planned, no final destination, nowhere to get to. Just moving along through the landscape that I find so beautiful in its simplicity. I don’t need mountains. I just need a wide sky.
The bike trail leads us away from the immediate coast line, inland. Trees line the freeway we drove down when we came into Zandvoort by car. Bike trails are on either side of it. Yes, Holland is bike country. There is a path heading away from the street, and out of curiosity, we take it, unsure where it will lead us. A few hundred yards into it, we come across a small bike park where we place the bikes and make our way along the path on foot. I look back as we leave our bikes, locked together, almost looking like their cuddling. So symbolic. It looks like I am definitely not travelling alone this time.
Walking on sandy ground, but through beautiful wildlife, I find everything to be very green and leafy. Generally this reminds me a little of the bike tour I did on te Curonian Spit two years ago, but the forests lining the Baltic Sea there are coniferous. The deciduous plants around here give make the green so juicy, the smell so fresh, not as earthy and wooden as I am used to. The path we follow offers new pretty outlooks and views around every corner.
We find a small outdoors theatre that looks like it may once have been a memorial and goof around behind the stone stand. Not a soul around – although that is not true. There are animals, most notably the toad I almost stepped on walking down the path. It’s a very peaceful place. As we move on, we climb up some stairs, and finally come across this:
Although information is scarce, we realize quickly that it is some kind of burial ground for victims of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Later, research online will tell us that it is a memorial cemetery for resistance fighters who were shot in these exact dunes. There is almost no background given, and really almost none to be found on the internet either, which I regret. Walking around, Jan and I get into a discussion on war and peace, on the surpremely priviliged position our generation finds itself in in Western Europe, on Ukraine, on World War II, on our parents and grandparents. It is quite intense, and it leaves us more grateful for this day than we could have imagined.
We linger at the memorial for quite a while before we get back to the bikes and move on. Down into the forest. Out of it. Coming across meadows (although protected by fences, so we can’t throw ourselves onto them). Along the freeway. And finally, when it is almost time to go back into town to return the bikes, we find the sea again.
The North Sea. It is indeed much more untamed. It is also very blue and not as grey as I generally perceive the Baltic to be, but I’m not sure if that’s just its mood today. I find the North Sea to be quite moody. It just goes away every now and then, what is up with that! But today, I have to admit it: The North Sea is being really really good to me. The way the light glistens on its surface, and the sand on its beach is as shiny and as rich in different shades of colour as the water, and the sea grass on the dunes moves in the breeze – all of this touches me.
After we’ve returned the bikes – much too soon for both our tastes – we go back to the beach for dinner, and then stay to watch the sunset for as long as our shivering bodies allow us to. It was warm during the day, but once the sun is down it is quite chilly. The light show that nature has prepared for us is amazing though. Nothing can be said against a sea that allows you to see the sun set in it, slowly, every so slowly disappear into the depths of its water, reflection turning the waves into shimmering bodies of liquid light. Magic moments. And I think I am more of a North Sea fan than I knew before.
What do you say – North Sea or Baltic? Or is it another one entirely for you?