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Bike and Ship North of Amsterdam

North Holland by ship and bicycle is a leisurely bicycle adventure starting in Amsterdam and visiting six ports in northern Holland.

Tour Overview: Map of North Holland TourJune, 2011. This tour is quite different from our other tours in this website. All the others so far are self-guided tours. This time it is a guided tour. We used the auspices of Pedalo , a firm that organizes bicycle and hiking tours in Europe. You can contact them; Pedalo Touristik GmbH, Kickendorf 1a, A-4710, Grieskirchen, Germany; info@pedalo.com, http://www.pedalo.com/; toll free telephone 0800-24 00 999.

Ship MS SerenaThe MS Serena is operated out of Amsterdam by a Dutch crew. It is a 295-foot, 108-passenger inland waterway ship was our home on this 7-day, 149 mile (240 km) adventure. Serena has all the comforts of home, and more.

Sailboat in AmsterdamThe general idea of this adventure is to board the ship in the evenings, have a full sit-down dinner, be entertained for a while in the ship’s lounge, listen to a discussion about the next day’s ride, and go to bed. Sometime during the dinner or the discussion, the ship will depart for the next port. In the morning, you will awake at the day’s port. As you eat breakfast aboard, the crew unloads all the bicycles. Then you claim your individual bicycle and start the day’s ride. You have a map and some information in case of emergency or break down but you are on your own and do not have to ride in a herd to the lunch stop. You may, as we did, bring your own bicycle aboard. However, the rental bicycles are not only sturdy and well maintained but also a good value. One of our riders who brought his own bicycle, had maintenance problems and was left to his own devices to fix it. That cost him a day of cycling when the rest of us were happily exploring an island.

Another general comment is that the rides are fairly short because the average age of the cyclists is about 70 but the age range is from 30 to about 85. There are some younger couples in the group – including Maxa and me, (he said with a twinkle).

As to path conditions, this is Holland. It is a flat country. What is not below sea level is barely above it. That said, I am happy to find some small rolling hills on the island of Texel and along the west coast of North Holland. We also are riding on low traffic paved roads or paved bicycle paths for about 90% of the way. One surprise is that motorcycles and mopeds are allowed on bicycle paths in Holland. This is not the norm in Germany.

If you have any negative issues in Holland, it will be with the wind. We did not have a problem but wind can be an issue. It will be either at your back, which is a good thing; or at your face, which one of my glib friends calls, “a poor man’s hill.”

Signage by Rolf HasseSignageSignageSignage by Rolf HaaseBike Path ClosedJoining Maxa and me on this tour are two other couples; Maxa’s brother Guntram and his wife Ulla, have ridden with us before. The other couple is Rolf and Ute, good friends of Guntram and Ulla. Rolf turns out to be a good photographer and I attribute some of the pictures in this travelogue to him.

Signage: Signage is excellent and the daily maps handed out by the crew of Serena are great.

Accommodations: On this tour, you stay aboard the ship except for the day before and the day after the tour. Maxa and I departed our home base in Germany the morning of the ship’s departure and had plenty of time to make the 6:00PM departure time. After the tour, we found a simple hotel in Amsterdam while our fellow travelers simply boarded a train and went back home to Germany.

Stops: The ship stops at Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Lemmer, Oudeschild, Texel, Den Helder, Alkmaar, Wormerver and of course Amsterdam. You may also be interested in Stavoren, near Lemmer too.

Maps and Guidebooks: The firm Eurobike and the crew of the MS Serena provided the maps and guides on this trip.

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Day 1: Amsterdam

Amsterdam SquareDay Overview: When the train stops at Amsterdam's main train station, we ride to the ship about 2 kilometers away. We are too early to board because the crew is still cleaning the ship after disgorging last week’s passengers this morning. We lock our bicycles and walk around the harbor until they allow us on board. For more on the city of Amsterdam, see our Rhine in Holland tour where we actually spend a couple days getting to know the city.

Day 2: Hoorn to Enkhuizen

Three Boys SculptureThe Man who founded Jakarta Day Overview: Our first port is Hoorn. We arrived last night and looked around a little before dark. After breakfast this morning, we claim our bicycles and ride off stopping first at a few sites in Hoorn to take pictures. Much of the day, we will ride along the coast north of Hoorn. The view toward the water is fun. There are many sailboats to see, two masted, gaff rigged, sloops and working sailboats abound. On the land, one sees windmills, farms and their associated animals.

The city of Hoorn was founded in 716 and was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company for years. You have heard perhaps of Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America? It was named after this city; it is called Kap Hoorn in Dutch.

Mile 2.2 (3.5 km): In the town square, most of the buildings are from the 17th Century. The statue is of Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587-1629) the man who founded Jakarta in 1618. His statue is a reminder of the former power of the Dutch Kingdom, its Navy, and the Dutch East India Company in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Land-locked sailboatMile 9.4 (15.2 km): We take a morning break in Oosterleek. Instead of coffee, two of us drink a beer. This tour starts out looking like fun.

Mile 14.1 (22.8 km): This is downtown Enkhuizen. We notice a sailboat here, the interesting thing is that it is not in the harbor but in a backyard of a private home. Yet, it has all its rigging as if it could sail away tomorrow.

Normally, after 23 kilometers, Maxa and I would stop for a cup of coffee and then go on for as much as another 40 kilometers. But today, after 23 kilometers we are done with the ride. Oh well. Take a deep breath and get a grip Tim.

In Enkhuizen, we noticed people carrying wine glasses in the downtown area. We learn that today is a chamber of commerce type event where for a fee, one can get a wine glass and stop by ten different wine selling establishments (taverns, pubs, or enotecas, etc.). We note that in this small town, everyone seems to know everyone else. We also note that wine makes people friendly. They engage us in conversation several times. Many Dutch people are multi-lingual, a skill they need to converse with our English-German language group.EnkhuizenEnkhuizen

The photograph on the left is our afternoon beer break in Enkhuizen but the photo on the right is our evening wander-about after our dinner onboard the ship.

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Day 3: Lemmer - Lemmer

Path conditions

Day Overview: Today we ride a circular route around the farmlands east of Lemmer. Again, the path is flat and mostly paved except for 3 kilometers near Langelille – half way through the day’s ride.

Path conditionsMile 0 (0 km): Starting at 10:30 AM, a respectable hour for a tour such as this, we claim our bicycles from the ship’s crew and ride into downtown Lemmer. Today, the ship’s activities director is leading a group of us to a dairy farm south of Lemmer that makes Gouda cheese. There are about 30 of us on this excursion. We gather in the parking lot of a grocery store on the edge of Lemmer, then ride as a group to the dairy farm. Riding in a large group like this is interesting. I feel like we need guards to cross streets since there are so many of us.

Tour guide at cheese factoryCheese Factory by Rolf HaaseCheese Factory by Rolf HaaseBarn at Cheese FactoryMile I think this cow likes me3.0 (4.9 km): At the dairy farm in the small community of Rutten, we tour the Poldergenot cheese factory and dairy (a polder is land recovered from the sea by dikes, genot means 'pleasure' in English) . Our tour guide is the matriarch of the family that owns the dairy. She is the mother of six and a full-time employee of the business. They make tons of cheese each year and ship wholesale to a variety customers in Holland and the rest of Europe. Only at their farm store can one purchase cheese directly. Their product comes in a variety of sizes and ages. Here is how to contact the dairy if you desire. Address: Gemaalweg 10, 8313 PS Rutten, Telephone 0527 263222, E-mail: info@poldergenot.nl. Their website is http://www.poldergenot.nl/net-book.php.

The cleanliness of the factory is impressive. The workers wear white coveralls with blue plastic aprons. They follow strict processing guidelines. After the tour, we view the dairy cattle in the barn. Animals are always interesting to a farm boy like me.

The milk cows are kept in the barn 24-7. They eat a consistent blend of fodder so the milk stays consistent month in and month out. Most dairy cattle range freely in a pasture. The cheese makers tell us that pasture cattle give one type of milk when the grass is fresh in spring, a different type in summer when the grass is mature, and another type of milk in fall, etc. By keeping them in the barn, and keeping the fodder consistent, the cheese is always consistent.

A single milking robot milks the 50 or so cows twice daily. The cows voluntarily line up for the milking robot at their predetermined milking times. This behavior reminds me of the residents of a retirement community lining up for dinner at 4:30 every afternoon, even though there is no rush to get in and no reason to be on time. Perhaps the cows use the line as a social experience too; chatting to one another about their aches, pains or their bowel issues. I wonder. What I do not wonder about is why the barn smells as it does. That smell is an all too familiar memory of cleaning out the milk cow barn in my youth.

Mile 17.8 (28.6 km): This church is in the small village of Scherpenzee.

Photo 334 Windmill, 348 Lunch stop with kids riding past

WindmillSheepFeeding a kid by holding the goatMile 27.6 (44.4 km): We arrive back in Lemmer and board the ship for dinner.

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Day 4: Lemmer - Stavoren

Day Overview: For the second day, we depart and return to Lemmer after making another circular route. Today we ride to the west of Lemmer. We encounter a few rolling hills but nothing bad. The path is all paved. I did not record mileage because I forgot my tape recorder in our room onboard ship. So no accurate tape recorded notes to transcribe – sorry.

Battle Memorial at Red Cliff by Rolf HaaseAbout 9.2 Miles (20 km): Red cliff (Reaklif or rote Klif). At the top of a long hill overlooking the Ijsselmeer (Holland’s inland sea) is a rock with the date 1345 chiseled into it. The rock is a memorial for a battle that took place here between William IV of Holland and the endemic people of Friesland. Because the Friesen won that battle they remained free for the next 150 years.Herring eating

About Mile 12 (20 km): In Stavoren, we purchase an appetizer lunch from a vendor in a portable kiosk in the parking lot. We take lunch on a terrace nearby.

If Holland has a national food, it is pickled herring served by street vendors or from kiosks like this. The herring are brined but raw and still somewhat fresh. They clean and skin the fish as you watch. It takes only a three seconds to make the three or four deft swipes with a sharp knife. You can order them on a roll or on a cardboard dish. If you get a dish you are to consume the critter by holding it by the tail, tilting your head back and letting the slimy thing fall into your mouth whole. I know it sounds disgusting but they are quite tasty – sort of a sweet salty taste with a slight crunch from the brine softened bones.

We meet the ship in Stavoren. After dinner, the ship motors toward the island of Texel across the Ijsselmeer and through a lock near Den Oever and into the Waddenzee.

Day 5: On Texel

Day Overview: The ship docks at Oudeschild on Texel Island. Texel is the first of a long string of protection islands along the North Sea Coast of Europe. Here we find the first sand dunes. Sand dunes cover the entire western edge of the island. We ride through part of the dunes between De Koog and Den Hoorn. Guntram has opted not to ride today because he has a maintenance problem and needs a part to repair his bicycle. Ulla stays onboard with him.Outlook at De Slufter near De Koog Texel NLBug at De Slufter

Outlook at De Slufter near De Koog Texel NL

Mile 5.2 (8.3 km): We ride into Oosterend. Taking a shortcut almost due west, we are looking for a viewpoint overlooking De Slufter near De Koog on the west side of Texel.

Mile 12.2 (19.7 km): We admire the lookout over the De Slufter and the North Sea beyond. This shallow bay is mostly dry except during exceptional high tides or winter storms. The Dutch tried and failed to build dikes to make the land arable. However, Mother Nature kept destroying the dikes and there is no longer a serious effort to keep the sea out of this bay. We stop for lunch in the dunes before Den Hoorn and an entire school class of young teenagers ride past on a bicycle holiday.Lunch stop with kids riding past

Mile 19.1 (30.8 km): Den Hoorn.Black Swan

Mile 26.1 (42.0 km): Riding past a city park entering Den Burg, we see an unusual black swan. It certainly cannot be related to the black swans of the legend The Wooing of Etain can it? Those black swans were to live for 900 years so perhaps this is one of them.

Den Burg Mile 26.1 (42.0 km): It is still early in the afternoon so we stop in Den Burg for an afternoon break. This is the largest town on Texel and people on vacation have packed the city square with the bicycles they use for transportation. We almost cannot find a place to lock our bikes while we patronize the outdoor restaurant.Den Burg

Mile 29.6 (47.7 km): We end the day back in Oudeschild and the ship. The ship moves from here to Den Helder from where we will depart tomorrow morning.

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Day 6: Den Helder to Alkmaar

Day Overview: After the ship offloads its cycling passengers, it continues along the Noordhollandisch Kanaal, an inland canal. (And I thought the Germans were bad at spelling.) Some of our fellow cyclists will rejoin the ship after only 25 kilometers at the little village of Sint Maartensviotbrug. Not our hearty group though; we ride the whole way to Alkmaar. I enjoy rolling hills and today, in the sand dunes we ride up hill and down. Most hills are less than 30 feet but there are a couple that are as high as 60 feet. Fun!Green valley

Mile 6.3 (10.2 km): We stop at the top of a small hill to enjoy the view that looks down on a little valley in the dunes. It looks like a grassy valley but the green comes not from grass but from a short groundcover type shrub.

Mile 28.7 (42.2 km): After a nice ride thought the gently rolling dunes we arrive at Bergen aan Zee, a seaside resort that has a great view of the North Sea. We enjoy the area and take our lunch here but it is windy. Next we take a new bicycle path into Bergen itself.

Bergen Church RuinMile 32.7 (52.7 km): This is Bergen; a picturesque town with a past. The years surrounding 1574 in Holland were an interesting period indeed. Not only did the Plague rage again in Europe and England, felling its share of the population, but also the Dutch were engaged in bloody civil religious wars. The economy was so depressed that may people starved. Earlier, between 1350 and 1420, the people of Bergen had built a large Gothic church here dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. However in 1574, Spanish troops began using it as a staging area for battles raging in nearby in Alkmaar. So the townspeople destroyed the church to deny the Spanish their use of the building.

This period in the late 1500's was a “perfect storm” of three catastrophes (plague, war, and economy) that decimated population. When the survivors later restored the church for religious services, they only restored a portion. They left the remainder as ruins and it remains so today.

An aside for you history buffs: I did not realize that the 80-Years War in Holland (1568-1648) was the Dutch war of independence from Spain and the 30-Years War in Germany (1616-1648) that was the War of Reformation were overlapping. A similarly named war, the 100-Years War (1337-1453), was an earlier war between England and France for the French throne. I like history too.

Mile 37.0 (59.6 km): We are back at the ship, which is docked in the canal near downtown Alkmaar. It is early in the afternoon so we leave our bicycles for the ship’s crew to load onboard and we walk the city.

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Day 7: Alkmaar to Amsterdam

Cheese Mart Alkmaar NLCheese Mart Alkmaar NLCheese Mart Scale Alkmaar NLCheese Mart Alkmaar NLMulti-language Sign Cheese Mart Alkmaar NLCheese Mart Alkmaar NLDay Overview: We start the day in Alkmaar with a walking tour of the Cheese Market. After the cheese market, the ship takes us to Wormerveer where we depart the ship in the early afternoon for a ride into Amsterdam.

Cheese Market: Although Alkmaar has had a cheese scale in use as early as 1365, the market was established in 1593. It is the oldest continuous cheese market in the world. Many of the market traditions established in the Middle Ages are still observed; including color coded the participants. The participants are buyers, sellers, and guild members who facilitate the judging and weighing of the cheeses.

What follows is a copy of part of the website found at: https://www.alkmaar.nl.

“The cheese carriers’ guild of Alkmaar

The Alkmaar cheese carriers’ guild is responsible for moving and weighing cheese during the cheese market on Fridays. The guild consists of four groups (vemen) of seven men each.

“Each veem has its own colour: red, yellow, green or blue. The head of the four vemen is the 'cheese father', the supervisor. As a sign of his office, the cheese father carries a black stick with a silver knob. The cheese carriers wear the traditional costume: a white suit and a straw hat with a ribbon in the colour of their own veem. An experienced carrier is known as a vastman (a regular). Before then, he is known as a noodhulp (temporary assistant). The oldest cheese carrier in a veem is called the tasman (bagman). He can be recognised by the black leather bag he wears. The tasman puts the weights on the balance when the cheese is weighed.

“Every two years, a leader is chosen for each veem: the overman. He can be recognised by a little silver escutcheon with a ribbon in the colour of his veem. The board of the guild appoints a provost and a servant. The provost helps the guild board and is known 'executioner' by the cheese carriers. He notes the names of latecomers and collects the appropriate fine. The provost wears a silver cheese barrow on a ribbon in the colour of his veem. The servant does the odd jobs for the guild.

“On Fridays, the square is prepared before the cheese carriers’ guild goes into action. The market inspector supervises the removal of the cheese from the trucks as they are positioned on the square in long rows by the zetters. When the bell is rung at ten o'clock, the zetters load the barrows and the cheese carriers carry them to the balance to weigh the cheese. Sworn weighing masters supervise the weighing and complete the weight slips. Meanwhile, on the square, traders and inspectors determine the quality of the cheese on offer. Haggling about the price takes place using the handjeklap system, literally clapping hands with other merchants.”

Amsterdamnear AmsterdamWindmill near Amsterdam39 inch wide houseMile 0 (0 km): Back aboard after the Cheese Market, the ship sails down the canal to Wormerveer. We depart the ship, claim our bicycles and ride southeast through country that must be below sea level judging by how wet the land is. There are drainage ditches every 50 to 100 feet in some areas creating small rectangular islands dry enough to grow hay.

Mile 1.9 (3.0 km): Near Waypoint 73 we enjoyed the museum village of Zaanse Schans. They not only have several windmills but also a picturesque village with shopping and restaurants.

Mile 18.0 (28.9 km): Stopping across the harbor from where the ship will eventually dock, we drink a beer in the shade of sidewalk umbrellas. Today is hot, in the neighborhood of 32ºC or 90ºF. Once back aboard, we gather our luggage and claim our bicycles again. We have finished this tour of Northern Holland by bike and ship. We say goodbye to our fellow travelers at the train station. They head home (Kassel, Germany) but we will stay in Amsterdam for three days then depart for Rotterdam. We want to ride the Dutch portion of the Rhine while we are in Holland. When completed, we will have done the Rhine from Lake Constance to the North Sea.

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