We caught a train from Lelystad to Assen as planned, and had a sightseeing afternoon once we had dropped the bikes off at our hotel. I have to take a moment to rave about travelling with a bike on a Dutch train – proper bike space, no hanging the bikes by their wheels and all very easy.
Assen turned out to be a real gem. Such a beautiful old town with many, many trees and even a large forest park right by the town centre. It made such a strong contrast with the ‘new towns’ of Almere and Lelystad, which are part of the newest province of Flevoland, a lot of which is land that was reclaimed from the Zuider Zee in the mid-20th century. Almere has an attractive centre, Lelystad a bit less so, but both are all about the modern architecture rather than old brick and greenery.
We walked through part of the Assen forest park and enjoyed the shade and the sense of being in the country with just faint traffic noise to give it away. When we came out, we found there was a deer enclosure as well! The deer were very sensibly relaxing in all the heat. Many of the people of Assen may have been relaxing in all the heat also, but there were quite a few at the open air market in the main square (twice weekly, apparently) and plenty zipping around on bikes through the traffic-free centre.
Most of our afternoon was spent in Drents Museum. To my shame, I had not heard of it until we were looking at possible places to visit in the area but it turns out to have an exceptional reputation for archaeology – so much so that it was hosting a special exhibition of the Nebra Sky Disc (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_sky_disc), which had previously been at the British Museum, and also a special exhibition about the history of Mount Ararat and Armenia, in partnership with the History Museum of Armenia. Both were fascinating, as was the display of ‘bog bodies’ discovered in the peat near Assen and the architecture of the museum itself. There was a lot more to see that we missed, including paintings by Rembrandt, so we will have to come back some day. That will be no hardship – Assen is beautiful and the people were uniformly friendly, including the gentleman who chatted to us on the cycle path as we were on our way to Groningen and raved about his time touring the Highlands of Scotland.
The cycle to Groningen was very easy, even in this heat. We found a wonderful organic cafe with extensive vegan options at Haren, before pedalling the last few kilometres to our hotel.
Thanks to the very welcoming reception staff, we heard about the Groningen Forum – a striking modern building with nine stories of library, cinema and café and a rooftop terrace with amazing views over the top of the city. We had a lovely time looking at everyone’s roof and also found a good bike shop where we acquired some additional padding (for me – I’ve been suffering), some insoles with extra arch support (also for me – forgot to put my orthotics into my shoes for cycling so my feet have also been suffering) and a new water bladder for a hydration backpack (for Bruce, who sprang a leak earlier). Just to round off the practicalities, we have been to our first laundromat (not laundrette, apparently) of this trip. Turned out to be a good one. I would give it at least four stars (odd socks?) out of five.
Groningen is a big enough town to have all the shops and services we need at this stage, but it also seems to have an interesting historic centre and the Forum building was outstanding. This is another place it would be fun to explore more at some point. I think we might want to come and base ourselves in this area for a few days sometime. Yet another one for the list!
Tomorrow we are cycling to Winschoten, where we stayed overnight in 2017 en route from Amsterdam to Berlin. I see that we were doing *much* longer distances in 2017 but that’s not a helpful thing to think about. Quite apart from what has happened between 2017 and now, it was much cooler – in fact, I remember bailing out onto a train one day when we had just been soaked to the skin for the second time. Onwards!