By Eilene Lyon
The bike and barge trip in the Netherlands was our third such adventure, but I highly recommend the tulip tour for anyone’s first exploration. You don’t have to be in super-fit condition to do the riding. We were booked on the Elodie, fairly small as barges go: 13 passengers plus our guide and two other staff – the captain and the (awesome!) chef. We liked the small passenger list and enjoyed getting to know everyone. The food was unbelievable. Really, a 5-star meal every night.
The red arrows show the route of our bike and barge tour in South Holland, starting and ending in Amsterdam
We spent a couple nights in Amsterdam to explore and get over our jet lag. We stayed in a VRBO rental in the old downtown area, within walking distance to museums, restaurants and sightseeing.
The incredibly steep, narrow stairs up to our rental. Note the shower-type handrail at the top!
The only museum we visited was NEMO, the hands-on science museum – even the skeptical Putterer had a good time. We took an hour-long canal tour and just did a lot of walking, admiring the scenes and the incredible number of bicycles. No one wears helmets. The Putterer saw two women cyclists collide, fall down, laugh as they checked to be sure each was unhurt; then they rode off again. No whining, no lawsuits.
It can be a challenge to find PG-rated photo ops in the red light district!
Sort of an odd sculpture to find embedded in the sidewalk outside an old cathedral (which is no longer used as such), but it’s in the red light district.
All those shutters! Love the look, but what a maintenance headache they must be. Up at the top you can see a projection. These hooks allow for furniture to be hauled up the front of the building, rather than carried up stairs (see first photo).
On Sunday afternoon, we boarded the Elodie, met our fellow travelers and the crew. It turned out the bikes we would be riding were brand new and quite nice. They have belts rather than chains, and you don’t shift while peddling, but rather when you’re not. That means you can change gears while you’re waiting at a signal.
Aboard the Elodie, pulling out of Amsterdam harbor with the NEMO museum in the background.
Riding through the ‘burbs. The Netherlands is awesome for cycling, geared toward bicycles over cars, or even pedestrians. Note the cars parked on the sidewalks to keep out of the bike lane.
Sunset our first night on board in Kudelstaart.
We only rode a few hours our first evening. The next morning, we started out at the giant flower market, Royal Flora Holland in Aalsmeer. You can’t really fathom how large and busy this place is. Millions of flowers are auctioned here every day, in the largest flower and plant trading venue in the world. An elevated walkway leads you around above the ordered chaos, taking about an hour to make a circuit.
The auction room, which will probably soon be obsolete as more and more traders access remotely.
Our next stop was the city of Gouda (pronounced How’-da, with a guttural H). We learned that the name of the cheese does not refer to a geographical appellation, but to the shape of the cheese. One of the highlights of the trip was the evening walks.
The Gouda town hall.
Architectural feature of the Gouda town hall.
In the morning, we had a guided tour of the cathedral with its impressive stained-glass windows.
The next day, we took a ferry ride through ultramodern Rotterdam. It was heavily bombed in WWII and was rebuilt. This is a major port city.
A bridge and modern skyscrapers in Rotterdam.
We spent the evening in Delft, a university town (my favorite stop). Our guide helped us strike up a conversation with a group of students outside their apartment. It was a stimulating discussion about life and education in the Netherlands. The next morning we stopped to visit a factory where they make Delft hand-painted pottery. Below are some scenes from our evening stroll.
After Delft was The Hague. Unfortunately, the lighting was very much in the wrong place to get good photographs of the government buildings.
While in the city, we visited the Mesdag Panorama. Painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag and helpers (including his wife) in 1880/1881, it is housed in a custom-built museum. The painting is 40 m high and 120 m in circumference. Surrounding the viewing platform in the middle is a man-made dune, littered with “artifacts” to blend the foreground into the painting. It is a view of the dune area along the North Sea, not far from where the painting is housed.
After viewing the 1880s scene, we headed over to the dunes for a look-see ourselves. You can see concrete caissons from the war dotting the seafront. The Dutch weren’t shy about baring all on the beach.
On our way toward Leiden, we got an impromptu tour of a sawmill run by wind power. It is functional, but not used commercially. It was much different than the water mill.
Our evening tour of Leiden, another university town, was done by boat on the many canals. Note how the busy restaurants use barges to expand their outdoor seating.
I have no idea what they are advertising!!
The following morning we toured the rural area outside of town and visited a cheesemaking operation. The owner was unusually open about her family and circumstances. The farm was idyllic and peaceful. The cheese – delish!
Then we had the afternoon to explore on our own.
One of many churches in Leiden.
Before visiting the Keukenhof the next day, we rode past many fields of flowering bulbs. Then we had a unique opportunity to visit the staging area for parade floats, all made of flowers.
The final city on our tour was Haarlem. Our evening stroll took us through the government district, where there was a carnival, and through the red light district. There we encountered some young “hooligans” (boys about 12 years old) banging on the doors to the prostitutes’ cribs and running away.
Must. Have. Chocolate.
A diversity of rooflines.
One final bit was a brief stop in Spaarndam to see the boy with his finger in the dike (okay, he is totally mythical). The statue is “Dedicated to our youth to honor the boy who symbolizes the perpetual struggle of Holland against the water.”
And, after all that grueling cycling, a nice afternoon refreshment.