Netherlands Barge Tour part 3

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May 25th 2012
Published: May 31st 2012
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The seals at Ecomare kept swimming up to near we were. If they become healthy and strong enough they are released.

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

Three of the guys took off at 0800, after planning their own route. They caught a ferry to the other side of the Ijsselmeer. Then rode north to the Afsluitdijk, the main dyke which cuts off the North Sea and is the first ocean defence for the Netherlands. The others continued on the ride planned for the day and the two groups would meet up in Den Oever. Since the distance for either ride was over 50kms Rags thought it prudent to stay with the boat for the day. He has kept up well but wasn't feeling well yesterday so along with Judy is having a rest day today.

Five of us stayed on the boat, the others riding up the coast. As the boat wasn't leaving until midday, we walked into the city centre, another cute, cobbled street area. Rags bought a pair of Skechers shoes, the second of that brand for this trip. They will replace the old runners he brought with him, this being part of the original plan.

Rags spent the the next 20 mins sitting on a ledge near the church whilst Judy went bra shopping. On coming out we bumped into Julie, so Rags took the opportunity to leave them and he set off for the boat. As often happens to him when he wanders around cities, he ended up taking a wrong turn, and only returned a few minutes before them.

At midday, true to his word, Michel cast off and the “Elodie” was on its way to Den Oever, a good 3 hours over open water. During this time we had our lunch and got our blog notes and photos up-to-date.

In Den Oever we sat up on deck and watched as the Elodie negotiated a huge lock. On the other side we could see the bike group waving to us. We waved as we cruised past and then pulled in around a corner to collect them and take off once again over open water to Texel.

Texel was another 2 hours away and the harbour quite crowded. Michel managed to squeeze the boat into what we (and quite a few spectators from other boats) thought was an impossible space in the harbour at Oudechild. He beamed as we applauded him for his effort.

Before dinner we had time for
Local cafeLocal cafeLocal cafe

The shop title says it all!
a short walk around the town, neat little places but obviously not particularly affluent compared to many of the places we have seen on the mainland.

Dinner was another delicious repast of prawns on skewers with salad, Flemish stew, ending with waffles with ice-cream and cream. The crew, and several others went to the pub to watch a soccer match, the rest of us sat around in the main cabin, the group slowly decreasing as the day's exertions took their toll.

Wednesday 23rd May 2012

Today was a 'free' day in that nothing was organised and people could explore the island as they wished. Of course we took our bikes, Judy now saying that riding was easier than walking. How things have changed!

We rode the 4 or 5kms into Den Burg, the cute little town in the centre of the island. This had the usual cobbled streets and lovely cottages we have now come to expect, as well as a large shopping area in the centre. We spent some time wandering in and out of these but not tempted to buy anything as we would have to carry this with us for the next 9 weeks or so.

Finding our way out of town was a little 'hit or miss' but we eventually found ourselves on the right path to Ecomare. This is a centre set in the dunes and forest, designated as a national park. Here we saw and photographed seals and porpoises which had been rescued after injury, sickness, or accidents with Man. They try to rehabilitate them back into the wild but if they are too badly hurt or strand themselves a second time in the case of porpoises, they are kept there. There were also exhibitions of the different fish in the area, examples of how the ecology develops, as well as making it clear how we humans should be keeping the environment in a condition where animals may survive.

Outside there are walking tracks through the dunes, with signs explaining about their significance and how only about 2% of Europes' dunes remain.

Returning to Oudeschild, where the boat is moored, was interesting in that we rode through some delightful forest on smooth quiet roads, really enjoying the ride. We followed a bike path (these are everywhere and very good to be on) but after a couple of kms Rags felt we were going the wrong way. This was confirmed by a local who could only speak a little English, she impressed with Rags' Dutch!

On entering Den Burg we somehow missed the turn-off to Oudeschild, ending up going further north towards De Waal. Not a real problem, we were able to keep off the busy roads and came back to the boat following a bike path which wove its way through the green fieldspassing the local farmers going about their business.

On reaching the boat people started coming in, all a little tired and ready for a break before going to the local brewery, Texels.

An enjoyable tour was had, the young lady, Dolores, both personable and knowledgeable about the brewery. We finished off having a tasting set of 4 of their beers, not bad at all.

Sander had dinner ready when we returned, Michel asked and we agreed to go across the strait and berth in Den Helder straight after the meal.

The trip across to Den Helder was in perfect conditions with flat seas and a mist on the horizon. It was only after we had entered the canal system that we noticed the build up of clouds. Perhaps he knows something we don't? As it was after 2130 when we tied up no-one felt up to leaving the boat, instead they went about their own business either downloading photos, showering, or generally talking about the last and next few days.

Thursday 24th May 2012

It thundered and rained last night, Michel reading the weather correctly. The wind was still up so being here on the mainland was a good place to be.

After another good breakfast (Rags getting used to cheese and cold meats) we prepared ourselves for the day.

Most of the group decided to ride the full distance to Alkmaar, Rags, Judy and Julie however, decided to stay on the boat to to St Maartensvlotbrug, 20 kms down. Here, we were met by Nina and after lunch at a crossroad a couple of kms away, we met up with the others.

The 30+kms ridden together included riding along the sea wall for some distance before heading inland again to the agricultural area where bulbs were in the final stages after flowering. We stopped in the town of Bergen, not the Norwegian town we were headed for later, this town being a very touristy town of mainly galleries and cafes.

The final ride into Alkmaar was through the affluent area of Bergen before becoming rural for a while, then into the town. Julie had an unfortunate incident when she fell at a very slow speed near an intersection, right in front of a scooter. She was unhurt and a little taken aback when a nearby vehicle, an ambulance, had the passenger open his door to ask if she was ok. Great service.

The boat was tied up close to the centre of the town, idyllic, and after dinner, as it was late night shopping, we wandered around the town for some time. All had returned by 2130 and we had to pose for a photographer for the local paper doing an article on cruise boats to the town. Australians were certainly a rarity and in our normal form we played up to it.

Friday 25th May 2012

This morning we went early to the Alkmaar cheese market. About 100,000 tourists from all over the world visit thsi cheese market every year. This is held every Friday in the centre of town where rows of cheeses are displayed before the sale starts at 1100. There were people in traditional dress doing what had been done for many years, although this is more likely that it is now a tourist attraction more than a business venture.

A bell is rung at the beginning of the sale, 8 cheeses are placed on a cradle and two men in costume have a sling to carry it to where they are weighed. They make quite a spectacle running up and down, it seems to be a competition between pairs. The buyer walks up and down the cheeses with the seller, takes a sample to see how 'holey' it is, how flexible it is and how it tastes. Then begins the bargaining where they slap each other's hands each naming a price, shaking hands when they agree. The cheese is then loaded onto a cart by several chaps who throw them with what appears to be gay abandon.

We left the ship at midday for our ride to Zaandam, a ride of 42 kms. On the way we stopped firstly at a church
Queen JudyQueen JudyQueen Judy

For doing (or being accused of doing) something silly the crown had to be worn for the day no matter where we were.
where we followed tradition and walked 'the stations' before drinking the well water which is supposed to heal all ills.

For lunch we stopped at a small town, a bar owner letting us use his tables outside when Nina explained we would buy drinks. We bought a local dark ale and a piece of the renowned apple tart to have with our cut lunch.

From here our ride went along the side of a highway before cutting through a village and then onto a narrow path that wound along a small canal. The wind was fierce and Judy several times feared it might blow the bike from under her. Luckily, there were only a few bikes heading in the opposite direction as the path was so narrow and passing them was tight.

About 5 kms before Zaandam we stopped at Zaanse Schans, a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses which was once an old industrial area which used the windmills to grind spices and oils. Some of these mills are still used commercially, they sitting in amongst the replica village there for us tourists, with the modern mills in the far background. It was very touristy with many bus tourists!

By the time we reached Zaandam we were all ready for the stop after having battled the strong winds on the way as well as it being a warm day.

The boat was moored in a quiet part of town a little from the centre, but we were told that there wasn't much to be seen. A drink at a local bar was fun, the locals enjoying our company and we enjoying the 'happy hour' where we were given 2 beers for each one we ordered.

All returned to the boat just before dinner was served, this being a lamb dish using Texel lambs. Planning for tomorrow's meal followed, we having take-a-way meal on the boat. Most settled for Thai, but we are thinking we may get some Turkish food to share for sweets.

Saturday 26th May 2012

Our last day of riding today, beautiful day again, expected maximum about 23 degrees. We have been extremely lucky with the weather, only having a bit of rain and cold on the first few days, the rest being a 'heatwave' in the eyes of the locals.

Once out of the township we seemed to weave our way back and forth through the fields and back streets of small villages, the total distance to Amsterdam only being about 10kms away but we keeping off the sides of the highway and not wanting to be back too early. A stop for coffee and of course the almost compulsory slice of appelkook was had in a town Nina had no idea what its name was. This killed a good hour before we met the boat from where we started from . This seems likes ages ago, and also a short time ago! Dunno kept a log of how far we cycled using his gps and it averaged out at about 500kms. Some rode more, some a little less, but all agreed it was a great experience.

After showers and a change of clothes everyone set out in different directions, we finding our way to the Jordaain area by a long, circuitous route. Not that we were lost, just that we took the long way around and did more sightseeing! We bought bits and pieces for tonight's dessert – strope waffles, appeltart, chocolate, and a few other tasty pieces. These would be cut up and all could then have a taste.

The ordered food arrived on the dot at 1830 as ordered, we only having a limited time to sample the cheese we had also brought back with some of the local brews. Dinner was a noisy, fun evening, Nina and Michel joining us. They enjoyed it as much as we did, it being commented upon that few past groups had brought in take-away food.

Sunday 27th May 2012.

After breakfast we had a few speeches, thanking our hosts and making a presentation of Bikeboyz shirts plus an envelope containing a tip from all of us. Nina then presented us with a new crown to be used on future trips as well a renaming all of us. Judy got “Queen of Work”, Rags got “Rudolf” ! For organising the tour Rags was presented with a model bike, keeping up the tradition started on the last tour.

We had to be off the boat by 0900, so after the usual hugs, kisses, and farewells we were on our own again. As we had purchased tickets yesterday we were able to jump onto a bus to Centraal station where we caught
Zaanse SchansZaanse SchansZaanse Schans

View from another windmill. (Rags' photo, Judy's idea)
a tram which stopped not far from Nel and Lee's home.

Here we were welcomed in and after a cup of coffee we settled in. The rest of the morning was spent doing some much needed washing, getting back into tutor mode and catching up with this diary. Sat in the living area with the aromas of Nel's cooking filling the air.

After lunch we drove to where Lee & Nel have their garden. This was part of one of the communal gardens we have seen during the trip, a plot of land with a building on it. These plots are owned by the State, rented out to residents on a yearly rental, and resumed whenever the land is needed for another purpose. This plot was passed on to Nel by her parents when they were too old to maintain it.

A neat living area, kitchen and a toilet area made up the shed, they not having a sleeping area anymore as they don't spend nights there. Many of the little cottages are inhabited over the summer months. It is expected that the garden is kept neat, this being part of the agreement. Most had colourful flower
Communal gardenCommunal gardenCommunal garden

This was Nel's parents' place earlier
beds and vegetable patches, real country gardens.

We sat around drinking tea and talking under the shade of an awning, the temperature being fairly warm in the mid 20s. this was followed by a walk around the park and on to the canal area where we watched yachts passing under the raised bridge.

A visit to a park where rhodendrums grew was visited next, this being on our way home. These flowers were quite spectacular even though they were close to the end of their flowering period. Many different colours made for an interesting walk, these blooms not growing at all well in our climate.

A glass of Genever, a Dutch spirit, preceded dinner, this a spirit that would take some getting used to but Rags doing his best to be “gezellig”. Tomorrow will be a day of meeting relatives so he thinks it may be more enjoyable to buy a couple of bottles of red wine to socialise.

Monday 28th May 2012

Relatives started arriving from about 1100 on, we recognising them all but needed a reminder on names for one or two. We didn't feel too bad about this as Lee mentioned that until after our visit in 2002, he still needed reminding.

Coffee and biscuits/slice started the socialising and this continued into a late lunch. By then everybody was full of food and coffee so a walk was decided upon, Lee being the guide. We visited Museumplein where we took photos of all of us on an embankment which is part of the roof of a supermarket, before going down to where the artificial lake and “I Amsterdam” sign is. Here, we reminisced on the last visit when the lake was full of ice-skaters rather than kids splashing in the water, and more photos taken.

A long circuitous route was taken, we looking at canals, cafes and buildings. It was very crowded as it was a public holiday (40 days after Easter). The heat got to some of the walkers (about 25 degrees) so we stopped for a rest and some had an ice-cream. Hans pulled Rags aside near the end and suggested a beer but we moved on before this could be followed through.

Instead, we returned to the house and the drinks were then brought out. The group had been very verbal up to this time but the noise level and verbosity certainly increased from then on. During a conversation about Australia the idea of several couples coming to Perth and hiring camper vans came up and September next year was the time agreed upon. We would set the agenda for a 5-6 week tour of Western Australia and join them with our caravan. Would be a lot of fun, we'll see if it occurs. There may be a change of mind when the heads clear and an idea of costs are explored.

The last guest left at about 2130, when Netherlanders get together they really make a day of it! Most of the clearing and cleaning was done by the time they left, we left Nel and Lee to it and made our way to bed after having a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Tuesday 29th May 2012

Today we had decided to go to the flower market in Alsmeer, reputed to be the largest flower auction in the world. It was about 30 minutes away and the best time to be there was between 0700 and 0900. When we awoke at 0600

One of the many varieties
we had second thoughts about going, bed was too inviting. However reason reigned and we caught the 0700 bus to Aalsmeer.

By sheer coincidence we met Fred and Lorraine at the entry to the FloraHolland building, they staying at a hotel nearby. Together we entered a most amazing place. As far as you could see were pallets of flowers plus electric trolleys zooming around, at what looked like crazy speeds, with up to 10 trailers behind loaded with colour. Not the place to be if you suffered from hay fever.

Technology has altered the way the flowers are auctioned, this still as a “Dutch Auction” where there is a time limit on each batch, a price being set to start the auction, reduced until the batch sold. Now though, instead of hands and a mechanical clock being used, there is a projected clock which also shows the seller, a picture of the flowers, the quantity, the price per flower, and the bidders. Each auction area has about 100 buyers with laptops and buzzers sitting watching the screen and the actual batch of flowers paraded in front of it. Bidding is fast and furious, few items needing the 60 secs to sell. There are 6 of these auction areas in the complex, we only saw 2. Flowers sold are shifted to another area where they are stacked in buyer's lots, then sent off either by truck or plane as soon as possible. As an indication of how big it is about 120,000 transactions/day take place,there are 9500 suppliers worldwide, 5600 traders, and about 12 million blooms are sold daily.

Aaalsmeer itself is a pretty place, nice housing and with a frontage to a large lake it is obvious that it is the home of some affluent people. Here we joined Fred & Lorraine for coffee and eats at the bakery before catching the bus back to Amsterdam. Here we had lunch with Lee and Nel before spending some time with our computers. Rags remembered to ring his mother before it was too late, Nel also spending some time on the phone.

Dinner this evening was at the Italian cafe we had been to with Hans at the beginning of our trip. This was our treat to thank our hosts and we think it was appreciated. The walk home was lengthened a bit as we dropped in on their daughter Caroline. Here we had another cup of tea and enjoyed their company for a while.

Wednesday 30th May 2012

An early start as we had to catch a plane. Nel and Lee accompanied us to the nearby bus stop, luckily for all the bus arrived almost as soon as we got there, Nel getting a little emotional. We had a wonderful time with them and became a little closer to them because of it.

Everything went smoothly from then on, the bus to Schipol, through customs, met up with Fred and Lorraine, and off on our Scandinavian Airline flight to Oslo, continuing on to Bergen.

The scenery altered several times on this flight, from plains of snow to capped mountains, hundreds of islands and fiords and then we reached Bergen. This is a most attractive place, set around a harbour with a mountain behind it with colourful houses on the lower slopes.

Our rooms at the YMCA, set right next to the square on the harbour were excellent. Small but well set out, good hot water, and our own kettle. Great for the price. Everything here is most expensive as we had been warned about but with a little shopping at a small supermarket we had a tasty meal on the rooftop patio with Fred and Lorraine. When it got a little too cold we adjourned back to our rooms for a warming drink before bed.

Additional photos below
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1st June 2012

goodbye Netherlands
It seems that you had a great time travelling around. The trip looked interesting and relaxing - I'd love to do something like that sometime.
1st June 2012

Love to be there
Hi all, sorry I haven't replied earlier, forgot about entering comments at the end of the page. I have loved reading every blog, seems that you guys are having a great time and would love to be there. Haven't ridden much since the departure. Enjoy the rest of the trip. Cheers Looooiiiii
1st June 2012

Your Barge and Bike trip looked great. A good way to see the country getting out on the bikes. Now you can take it easy and enjoy all the magnificent views of the Fiords. I will be looking for some very scenic photos. Holiday here Monday. WA Day !!! Used to be called Foundation Day !! By the way, did you know you can buy Sketches shoes at The Athlete's Foot in Belmont ? I nearly bought a pair, but they were just a bit tight on my Bunion bone. Enjoy your cruise. Miss you, love Mum.
6th June 2012

Hi you travellers. It seems the weather was kind in Holland. Love the pics. Its definitely looks like cheese heaven. I noticed on facebook that you are now above the Arctic Circle. Looking forward to the next update. Saty safe and stay warm - Rags I hope you are improving day by day.

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