Monday, July 8, 2013

Last Days

During the last three days in Amsterdam, we have certainly done a lot of walking, had to buy new shoes!
When we disembarked the barge this past Saturday morning, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel and Brenda and Molly went their own way together as did Robin and I. Decided we wanted to get some exercise (sounds funny after a week of cycling!), so we headed to Vondelpark, just a few blocks from our hotel. The park covers 47 acres and people everywhere enjoying the sunny day. Some boot camps going on, as well as yoga classes, people rollerblading, walking, cycling and dog walking. We love the fact that great Cities invest in green spaces like this. Hard to believe that this park has been here since 1865.


We went to the Van Gogh museum. A great retrospective of his work through the ten years he painted, very enjoyable. Unfortunately, could not take pictures at the museum. After leaving the museum, we got lost in the neighbouring streets, which is always a good thing. Ran into a Dutch gentleman who we spoke to for a while. He told us to go a few blocks to a local organic market...thank you. What a little gem. We bought Dutch waffles. Mine had fresh strawberries and Robin's had nutella and strawberries....yum. Sat at a picnic table with some locals and had a wonderful visit with a Dutch couple. Discussed the recent coronation of the king and he showed us pictures of his family and the locals celebrating the event, then onto the Dutch economy and life in general. Walked to the flower market, quite a walk, then back to the hotel via tram.

The canals in Haarlem

On Sunday, we headed off to Haarlem, a town some 20 kms. from Amsterdam. We took the tram, then a train from the Central train station. Very quiet on a Sunday morning. We went to the town centre and heard music from the local church. The service was just finishing, so we entered. Someone playing a beautiful pipe organ, so we sat down to listen. Off to sit by the canals to watch people enjoying the day on the water. Back to Amsterdam so I could meet Brenda and Molly at the Anne Frank Huis. Very interesting and very moving to see what these people went through.

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt


Monday, our last day in Amsterdam. Headed off to the Rijksmuseum where we spent three hours. Lots of people here, but still able to enjoy the art. Then walked through some new undiscovered neighbourhoods to the Albert Cuyps market. Somewhat tacky, but able to taste proffertjes, a Dutch pastry, like pancake puffs served with icing sugar. Walked through a high end shopping area,the back to the hotel.

During the vast three days, Brenda and Molly have had their time together as had we, but we have met each night for drinks and dinner. Lots of good meals and laughs each night.

Well, two and a half months have passed since we left Calgary. In retrospect, Robin and I have so many good memories of places we have seen, people we have met and many wonderful adventures. It has also been great to have Brenda and Molly join us in our travels as we have had so much fun together experiencing new places. Thank you to both of you.

I have enjoyed writing this blog of our travels, as before, and hopefully these reading has experienced someof what we have, even if only vicariously!

Goodbye till the next time.


Claire at Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Dutch crepes
The Rijks
The Flower Market
The pipe organ in Haarlem
People cycling through the Rijks
Art at the Rijks


Saturday, July 6, 2013


Brenda, Robin and I left Mazamet on Friday, June 28th. A 1 1/2 hour drive to Toulouse and a 2 hour flight to Amsterdam where we met our niece Molly at our hotel. She will be joining us for the barge/bike tour and for our last three days in Amsterdam after the bike trip. Amsterdam definitely the busiest City we have been in. One must watch out for bikes everywhere, thousands of tourists, cars, buses and trams. Lights even control the bikes. Our hotel was located in this busy tourist area; but upon our return in a week, we will be in a quieter area. We took the train from the airport to the main train station and walked the four blocks to our hotel. The first thing we noticed when we left the train station was a three storey bike parkade. Bikes, bikes and more bikes. Nobody wears bike helmets. It is hard to describe the number of bikes here, just unbelievable!

Typical street scene in Amsterdam

Walked around Amsterdam in the afternoon to get our bearings, stopped for a pre dinner drink in a pub located in the Red Light District, then more walking and dinner at an Indonesian restaurant. Brenda commented that she has never seen so many groups of young testosteroned men and have to agree, very noticeable. On the way back to the hotel, we find ourselves in the midst of the back alleys of the Red Light District. What you have heard about the Red Light District in true. The girls are wearing little clothing, some standing in the windows, others sitting, smoking, eating, while looking and smiling at prospective customers. Almost surreal, but that's real life in Amsterdam.

Then of course there are the "coffee shops" in the back alleys where marijuana is sold along with the coffee. It is legal to be sold to local Dutch people only, so we are told. We also came across many erotic shops, cheesy tourist shops and many cheese stores. It was Friday night and throngs of people everywhere. We haven't seen so many tourists in one place in all our touring in the last two months. We go for Indonesian food for dinner. Many Indonesian restaurants in Holland due to the occupation of Indonesia by the Dutch.

The next morning we decide to take a cruise through the canals. This gave us a good sense of the layout of the City. The number of canals are amazing. The canals are also well used by the locals for a means of transportation. More walking, then Brenda, Molly and I decide to visit the Sex Museum. Robin won't have anything to do with it and waits till we finish our visit. Very tacky place, think it just made us laugh and glad that we did not pay more than 4 Euro.

Canal in Amsterdam

Around 3 p.m. we take a cab to our boat, the Angela Esmee, which will be our accommodation for the coming week. We get settled in our rooms, tiny but comfortable. Knock on Brenda and Molly's door and have been given the Presidential suite. A room with 2 bunk beds and yes folks....two windows.

Our meals on board have been good and plentiful. Each day we leave the boat by 9:00 a.m. on our bikes for the day. Our routes will vary between 45 and 65 kms. each day. On our first evening, the boat leaves the Amsterdam harbour for Zaandam, just a few kms. away. Each evening the tour leader gives a briefing as to the next day's route and gives suggestions as to where to stop for coffee, lunch and more pie.

There are 54 people on board of which there are 5 Brits, 1Italian, 2 Norwegians, 4 Canadians (that would be us) and the rest are "loud" Germans. Robin noticed that there wasn't a Canadian flag flying and mentioned it to the tour director, Wilhemina. That afternoon, they arranged to have one put up...yeah!

There is always one person who stands out on a trip. This person is a German male who appeared on the ship wearing leather pants with a belt that we think he bought at one of the many erotic shops in Amsterdam. Leather pants....just thinking, weren't they popular thirty years ago! O.K. We couldn't help ourselves and couldn't stop laughing about him....we now call him....Mr. Leather Pants. We thought to ourselves that his wardrobe would improve....wrong! He showed up the first morning for a 45 kms. bike ride wearing the same leather pants.....enough said.

Many windmills in the countryside

In Zandaam, went out for a short walk to see if we can find the first markers for the bike route. Must say, they are so well organized when it comes to anything "bike" in Holland. Separate bike routes, separate lights, bike parking, bike height garbage bins and markers on the trails. Our first day of touring was through the "polder" part of Northern Holland. Polder relates to an

area of low-lying land, especially in the Netherlands, that has been reclaimed from a body of water and is protected by dikes.

This is the traditional part that we would all be familiar with. Many windmills, sheep, cattle and canals everywhere.

Our first bike stop was a museum type setting of a typical old Dutch town. Really more of a touristy place, but nice to see the typical houses and best of all, they had a children's play area, where we all tried walking on the stilts....who are the children? The next stop is for coffee and apple pie, prior to a small canal crossing by ferry. This part of Holland is known for it's apple pie, so therefore, we just had to try it....mmmmmm. Back on the bikes to visit two old windmills from the 16th century. You can climb up to the top and we also watched a video on how the windmills work, quite interesting. Off again cycling along the dikes and farmland. The small villages we pass have lovely houses and spectacular gardens; all very neat and tidy. Most of the dutch decorate their window sills with lovely flowers or works of art. Our final stop for lunch In a small cafe along the canal. A total of six hours on the road, prior to meeting the boat in Alkmaar. Very busy canals in the centre of the town with people on small boats enjoying the sunshine, drinking and Sunday afternoon boat rides with their families. Went for a guided walk of Alkmaar in the evening with our tour leader who described the history of the town and pointed out the important buildings. A total of 45 kms. today.

Up each morning around 7 a.m. and on the bikes by 8:30/ 9 a.m. at the latest. On our second day we bike about 55 kms. to Den Helder. Everyone in our party feels good with the exception of our "rear ends". The scenery today is totally different from our first day. Now cycling through a small forest, then along the dunes by the North Sea. A little grey outside, but quickly warms up and need to shed a layer of clothing. Some wind, but glad to be out in the open air, enjoying the views and getting some exercise. We stop at a small cafe along the route for coffee and apple pie.....just have to make sure we test the apple pie to ensure it meets the Dutch standards. We get to our next stop before the boat. Have a beer on the deck of a pub waiting for the boat. After dinner, the boat sails for Oudeschild, which is on the Island of Texel. ......very smooth sailing due to the protection of the five Islands off the coast of Northern Holland.

Cycling path through a nature preserve

Our third day of cycling is quite random. We are on the Island and many options, as long as you are back on the boat by 5 p.m. for sailing back to the mainland. We cycle through the town of Den Burg, the largest town in the Island, then onto the small village of Den Hoorn, where we stop for coffee at a quaint shop. Further along the route, we stop at " Ecomare ", which is an aquarium. We stayed to watch the feeding off the seals. The seagulls are quite aggressive as the trainer is feeding the fish. The birds swoop down to try to catch the fish, before the seals. One of the seagulls, swoops right above our heads and manages to drop a "little gift" right on me. Thankfully it did not hit my head, but my cycling shirt and skirt. Oh was time to change shirts anyhow! Further up the coast to De Koog where we have lunch.

We separate, Brenda and Molly go in one direction and Robin and I in another. We agree to meet back at the boat before 3 p.m. as we will be going on a tour of the local brewery. The brewery tour is a little disappointing; as everything is in German! One has to ask, why German and not Dutch? We are told that the island of Texel caters to Germans. So if a local sees that you are a tourist, they speak German first. All the menus are in Dutch, German and finally English if you are lucky. The locals raise a lot of sheep here, yet the Dutch people hardly eat lamb, it is mostly exported. They also do not eat Edam cheese, they export all of the Edam that they produce. They do not feel that this type of cheese has enough taste as it is a young cheese, not aged.

Cycle path along the dunes

Keep in mind that we are travelling with Brenda and Molly, therefore lots of accents are being practiced or mimicking people might be closer to the truth. Molly has the Dutch accent down to a tee, she just sounds mad when she pronounces a Dutch word or name of a village. Brenda on the other hand, sounds more like Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes or at other times like a Swede!

On Tuesday evening, we sailed back to the mainland and moored in Den Oever. No real big town here, so the ship provides entertainment. A one man band shows up for his gig. He starts to play and his repertoire is mainly 60's and 70's music, with some real oldies thrown in, all sung in English. He plays Que Sera Sera.....the Germans start to sing and sway side to side holding each others hands and get louder and louder. Brenda, Robin and I sing along, as we know most of this music. Molly on the other hand feels like she has somehow entered The Twilight Zone!

Claire and Robin after 44 kms. arriving in Enkhuizen

The next morning a two hour sail to Medemblik then leave for our biking trip around 10 a.m and we do 44 kms. We ride through many small villages today and the village of Twisk was quite interesting. All the homes in this town are built on one street. Stopped for coffee at the "koffee shop", which was also the local hardware store. We also biked through Egboetswater a nature preserve, which was quite peaceful. I know those reading this blog are probably thinking, " Why does Claire bother with all these names? ". Well, I think it is just fun trying to enunciate them!

Claire, Molly and Brenda taking a break at the tea garden

We have one final stop on this day at a small tea garden. Nice back garden with a small shed that serves as the kitchen. Outdoor seating amongst the plants and along side a small pond. What great spots we have found along the biking paths for short breaks. Another 45 minutes down the road and we arrive in Enkhuizen, where we meet our boat for the night. Robin and I go for a short walk through the town. Another quaint coastal village.

It seems that we have numerous pictures of the four of us when we are "eten n drinken". This term is used on the outside of restaurants, and we have now made it our theme! We have tried the typical foods of the region ..appeltaart or appelgebak ( apple pie usually served with whipped cream), tosti (basically a toasted sandwich), pannekoeke ( pancake, but larger and thinner than those in Canada and often times filled with ham and cheese or something savoury), waffles and stroopwafel ( a waffle cookie filled with caramel).
On Thursday we head off for a 50 kms. ride. We bike along the dikes for the majority of the day. Stop in Hoorn for lunch . We wait around for the local demonstration of what took place at the cheese market of old. O.K......very touristy, but the old back side needed a break! Another few kilometres down the road and we end up at the well known town of Edam. Remember what I said, the Dutch people don't eat Edam....they export it. Finally arrive in Volendam, our final stop of the day. this ever a tourist town. Bus loads of tourists arrive every day from Amsterdam, to shop in the tacky tourist shops. Will say however that the marina was filled with many beautiful masted ships. Shooters are two for one on board the ship, and a couple of Edmontonians I happen to know take advantage of this they had on a previous evening.....not naming any names!
Friday, our last day of biking. We are not that far from Amsterdam, but we bike 45 kms. First thing in the morning we ride to a local cheese farm and get a demonstration of the cheese process. Then off to the Island of Marken for coffee. Technically, Marken is no longer an Island, as they have built a dike joining it to the mainland. We decide to take the longer route back to Amsterdam through small villages. A stop in the village of Broek, then onto Amsterdam. We have to take a ferry from North Amsterdam to Amsterdam. It is Friday afternoon and very busy with weekend traffic, but we get back to the ship by 3 p.m. Up to the top deck to toast our accomplishment.

Robin, Molly, Brenda and Claire enjoying a celebratory drink after our week long bike trip


What a great week we had. It was so nice that Brenda and Molly joined us. We had so many laughs, really had a good time and great partners to have on the cycling trip. We certainly could not complain about the weather. During the first couple of days we had cooler weather, but great for cycling. Last few days the sun came out, but not too hot. All in all.......just a great week. This is a trip that anyone in decent physical condition could undertake, and a great way to see the country.

We are so taken with Holland, the diverse countryside we saw, the wild North Sea, the dunes, the dikes, the beautiful gardens, the cleanliness and order of the small villages, the bike trail system and the fact that we are able to bike for a week and enjoy it so much.

Canal in Amsterdam
Everywhere you look, bikes
Brenda and Robin on our canal tour
The many bridges over the canals
Why are Brenda and Molly smiling!
Small village in the countryside
The first windmills we came across
Pretty good for a seventy year old!
Claire having her turn, Molly looks worried!
A small ferry we had to take to cross a canal
Taking a break to see where we are
Brenda, Molly and Claire at the North Sea
Our boat, the Angela Esmee
Many thatched houses in the countryside
At Ecomare

Out for a walk in a small town after a day of bike riding
The lounge of our boat
One of the many beautiful harbours
Cheese demonstration in Hoorn