CS Ride – Passing Ants

Geoff Hill’s latest update on – THE CS CLANCY CENTENARY RIDE

Supported by Adelaide Insurance Services and BMW Motorrad.

Recreating the first around the world ride 100 years on.

Holland-Amsterdam-smallI had forgotten how much I loved Holland. Everything is neat and tidy, and the people are polite, charming, funny yet pragmatic and liberal yet decent.

All around us, impossibly healthy folk cycled to work looking as if they had just emerged from the shower after being scrubbed all over then dusted lightly with sunshine, while others were engaged in that uniquely Dutch pastime of walking the dog by bicycle.

Clancy’s first impression was not quite so idyllic: his grumpy mood after an expensive crossing and a lukewarm meal wasn’t helped by having to wait two hours on the docks at Rotterdam in the rain while the customs officer was roused out of bed to examine their passes.

They then managed to lose each other, met up in Delft on the way to Den Haag, then missed the signpost for Amsterdam and, after a day of being shaken to pieces by the bumpy brick roads, rode into Amsterdam as darkness fell and climbed off wearily outside the garage of a friendly Dutchman they had met on the boat.

He came out wiping his hands on an oily rag, greeted them warmly and got them sorted at the Rembrandt Hotel with bed and breakfast for three shillings each.

He would have been moderately stunned by the silky tarmac today, not to mention the cycle paths with their very own traffic lights, complete with red, orange and green bicycles, I thought as we followed his tyre tracks to Delft, best known as the home of the blue and white ceramics of the same name and two famous dead people, namely the painter Johannes Vermeer and William the Silent, who is buried in the cathedral.

As an army commander who fought several campaigns against the Catholics, he was a sort of quieter version of William of Orange, who was supported by the Pope to defeat the Catholic King James, thus creating the surreal logic which has become the basis for Northern Ireland politics to this day.

Mind you, it’s no surprise they were confused: their compatriots call their country the Nederlands, everyone else calls it Holland, their language is called Dutch, the national colour is orange, and the national flag is red, white and blue.

William the Silent, being just as Orange as William of Orange, was assassinated in 1584 by a Catholic fanatic called Balthazar Gerard.

Protestant legend has it that the dying William, speaking up for once, asked for Gerard to be treated mercifully.

BIKE-STOP-smallHowever, since he was then dismembered with red-hot tongs, quartered while still alive and had his heart cut out and placed on his face, although according to contemporary accounts he remained calm throughout, I wouldn’t have liked to have seen them treat him unmercifully.

William’s dog, meanwhile, took his master’s demise so badly that he went on hunger strike and perished, a custom later adopted by the other side of the fence.

There. With the future of Irish politics secure, we remounted and followed the Clancy trail to Amsterdam, where the Rembrandt Hotel where Clancy and Storey stayed is no more, since of the two hotels of the same name in the city today, the one on Herrengracht was a private home when he passed through, and the one on Plantage Middenlaan was a house for single Jewish ladies and is today a pleasant four-storey brick building in the door of which is a sign asking guests to not let Bink the cat out – with a photograph of Binks just in case they accidentally let another cat out.

Mind you, knowing cats, Bink has probably faked the photo so he can come and go as he pleases.

Sadly, both of the Rembrandt Hotels that Clancy hadn’t stayed in were full because it was Good Friday, although after trying another half dozen in vain, we were wondering what was good about it.

We finally ended up in an average establishment charging prices which were anything but: €229 for a room without breakfast.

Clancy and Storey, meanwhile, realising at this stage that since they hadn’t eaten since breakfast, piled into the 1898 De Kroon for a feast and all the beer they could drink for 60 cents: the only time in the entire journey Clancy mentions getting sloshed.

In 1990, the first floor dining room of the De Kroon was restored to its former glory, and as we were tucking into boeuf bourguignon with chips and mayonnaise, Peter suddenly straightened and looked out of the window across Rembrandstplein.

“Good grief,” he said. “Look at the name of that hotel above the Smokey Café.”

We looked. It was the Rembrandt Square Hotel, and it all made perfect sense. If Clancy and Storey had stayed there, they would have emerged hungry, and made straight for the De Kroon across the square.

Clancys-route-through-Holland-Belgium-smallSadly, when we crossed the square to make enquiries from the callow youth behind the reception desk, he hadn’t a clue how old the hotel was, whether it had been called the Rembrandt 100 years ago, or who would have a clue.

Defeated, we walked home, stopping in several pubs along the way to ease the pain of our disappointing lack of success as Clancy detectives.

On Clancy and Storey’s next morning, they found their bikes cleaned, topped up with fuel and oil, the tool bags supplied with metric spark plug adapters and a road map, for all of which their good Samaritan refused payment except for a short ride on the Henderson.

Mind you, it was hardly surprising: the Dutch are model Europeans, and bikers are always friendly to each other, generally stopping to see if another rider stopped by the roadside is OK, and nodding to each other when they pass, which along with the visored helmets, the armoured suits and the gauntlets, always makes me think of them as modern day knights.

Or possibly ants, the only other species to nod at each other as they pass.

Background information:

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In 2012 they were voted the UK’s number one for value-for-money in the Auto Express Driver Power survey beating all the UK’s best known brands.

This annual poll had responses from 29 000 readers.

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