After our arrival at the port of Amsterdam we make our way out of the belly of the ferry amongst huge juggernauts, cycle on past halls in which fish is traded. Later on we fly through peaceful, partly wooded dunescape. On our way, we come across a herd of highland cattle freely walking the paths and grazing on the surrounding fields. On the horizon, a westerly wind sweeps the sand across the dunes.
In Zandvoort, a popular seaside resort, we observe seagulls sailing in the wind and plunging for chips someone has chucked away. The town is heaving with tourists searching for entertainment, cars pounding with umpf-tss-umpf-tss-umpf-tss, an altogether inhospitable place prone to cause depression within record time. We find a place for our tent on a crowded campsite. The acoustic omnipresence of the seagulls become a comforting soundtrack. In the small hours the cooing of doves and the dialogue of a couple of crows join in.
In a suburb we meet Aady who owns a bicycle shop there and checks our bikes. He has a dog who guards his shop and whom he’s training to be a police dog. In the last few years so many foreigners have moved to this area, he feels he has to protect himself, Aady says… Unfortunately, the wonder dog is out for training. We would have liked to have met him.
We ride through Rotterdam, which was heavily bombed during the Second World War and now flaunts a futuristic skyline. Quite generally, the architecture and the design of some of the buildings in Holland are of startling quality compared to Switzerland. We cycle along endless greenhouses, tree nurseries with bux trimmed into absurd shapes and farms with horses and sheep. Shortly before the town of Dordrecht we admire five stallions playing wildly in a field.
Onward along the Waal – as the Rhine is called here – we end up in Maria’s B&B in a 400-year-old house in sedate Zaltbommel. A musician is busy charming baroque sounds from the church’s glockenspiel sounding through the town. We meet Jaap from Amsterdam, journalist, DJ and multi-talent. In reply to his questions regarding the Flying Piglets we end up talking about meat consumption and its impact. Only days later he writes with a wink: «Already eating less meat…»
The landscape between the Lower Rhine and the Waal – considered a «Promised Land» by locals because of the quality of the farm and grassland – consists of vast wetlands and pastures dotted with horses, cows and sheep.
In the centre of Nijmegen we stay at Susanne and Michiel’s Prikkels and they prepare a vegan breakfast for us. In the evening we sit with the team and we debate on meat consumption, animal rights, the motives of veganism, politics and quite simply everything and anything until the early hours.
On our way to Germany we see dozens of fish rising to the surface and sticking their dorsal fins into the air for lack of oxygen. A heron sitting on the shore snatches one of the fish. Later on we see wild horses. In reality they are semi-wild, we are told by a local. Apparently these Konik ponies are related to those Mongolian wild horses who had been introduced to the area a while ago. However, the wild horses were moved back to their home country where they had previously become near extinct. On the riverbanks greylag geese cackle. Ducks and buzzards fly through the air and there are even white-tailed eagles reportedly. Time and again we spot storks along the way, in the fields, on rooftops and one couple have even made their nest on top of a tall chimney.
Then suddenly, we understand what’s written on the signposting along the cycling path again – we are in Germany. One large-scale agricultural unit chases the next here. We film dairy cows in a massive loose housing barn, the calves are locked away from their mothers in the typical white hutches. On a second large-scale farm we start talking to the farmer’s wife. They have around 480 cows who exclusively live in the barn and never set foot on a field. The calves are separated from their mothers at birth and kept in tiny boxes for three weeks before they are moved into small group hutches.
After these saddening impressions we cross over the Rhine and stop over in Rees before heading off to Düsseldorf the next day.