Monday April 28 -- Leiden to Kudelstaart
Today our ride was more countryside than tulips. It was well over 45 kilometres and began just outside Leiden. Our first stop was to watch a family of coots; the chicks were just hatched and one egg remained unhatched. The bike routes were trails that were up high on the dykes, often with water on both sides of us, although the water levels were often different on each side.
We also stopped at a windmill (actually, a wind pump) where we were lucky enough to have the manager explain to us about how the pump operated. He unfurled the sails and gave us a very detailed demonstration. He explained the use of the wind pump for draining the polders. Polders are fields of varying sizes that have been created by draining the water covered land within the surrounding dykes. In some polders, the top peat layer had been removed for fuel and these polders are today a great deal lower than surrounding polders that were not used for fuel.
We also saw an unusual farm machine on which six people were deadheading tulips in a most peculiar way. They were suspended (face down and head first) in harnesses from a bar carried in front of a tractor, and were simply reaching down to deadhead the flowers as the tractor proceeded very slowly along the rows. It was an unusual and interesting sight!
We cycled along old tow paths that were once used by horses pulling barges and we stopped at a small cafe for a hot chocolate and decided to eat our packed lunch as well. The afternoon passed quickly and we were back at the barge by 3:30 p.m.; our 'easy' day according to our guide. For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed.
One thing that we have observed is that the Dutch love symmetry. Their gardens are often surrounded by clipped box hedges; trees are often espaliered and form neat edges around the garden; the most common trees are linden, beech, horse chestnut and plane. Many willow trees along river banks and roadways are heavily pollarded and some look bare at this time of the year. Clipped trees and the occasional topiary shrub in a garden are quite common, as is the use of small box hedge edging small formal gardens. The typical garden is very neat and tidy.
On our rides, we also saw many swans, various types of geese, coots and ducks with goslings, chicks and ducklings. The dykes and drainage channels are a heaven for waterfowl; they were everywhere. Other birds seen in the fields and along the canals included oyster catchers, magpies, lapwings, wag-tails and several different waders and the occasional stork-like bird (these being yet not clearly identified).