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Detailed Travel-Report

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5,2 01.05.2022 | Stephen M. Discover North Holland by Bike + Boat MV SERENA

Another round!

Overall:
While it embodies the modern — just look at the startling architecture in its bigger towns and cities — wherever you go in the Netherlands, history abounds. Even much of the countryside is the result of the centuries-old battle against water and the sea and, yet, for all its man-made credentials, nature thrives here, delivering another layer of sights, sounds, colours and scents. No surprise, then, that I love cycling in the Netherlands, and having a boat as the hotel that comes round with you simply adds to the convenience as well as meaning there are familiar faces (crew and guests) every day.

Date of my Tour: 2022-04-03/09 (7 nights / 8 days)

A word of explanation
Close observers of Rad & Reisen’s tour reports may have noticed another review from me of this exact same tour, but for the preceding week. Yes, it’s true — the same tour twice in two consecutive weeks! “That’s mad!” was the verdict of the two New Zealanders from the first week when they heard of this. So let me explain how it came about.

The simple explanation is that I had been booked on the equivalent South Holland tour “Discover South Holland by Bike + Boat NORMANDIE” for the earlier week, but this was cancelled at a late stage, after I’d made travel arrangements. Because it was so early in the season, there were very few alternatives for the week in question and, with all the complications relating to travel because of Covid, I was keen to get the travelling over and done with in one go, not introduce a further date with another set of travel rules to negotiate, so the simple solution was to ask Rad & Reisen to try to book a cabin for me on the North Holland tour for the first week in addition to this second week, which was already booked.

The good news is, for most of the cycle rides, several different routes are described in the materials supplied, so it’s not necessary to repeat the exact same cycle trips. What is brought into stark relief, though, is the price difference between the two weeks: the second week cost me €150 more than the first one. Why? What do you get on the second week which makes it worth €150 more than the first, and who is responsible for delivering that extra value? It’s not because of supposed better weather, surely? In fact, it was worse on the second week, with even less of the standard itinerary delivered than on the first week. The crew was largely the same, the food was largely the same. Some tourist venues open from 1 April, but, if this is the reason, why do subsequent weeks become still more expensive? Is it supply and demand? But, on the second week, the boat was still at only about half its capacity of guests (around 50 instead of 100). So, I’m sorry, but I simply can’t say the second week was worth €150 more than my first week, which means I’m going to have to dock a point for value for money.

General Information
To save repeating much of what I wrote for the first week, please refer to my earlier report for this information. Here, I will cover the things which are different, and fill in some details I omitted in the first report.

Optional Excursions

  • In Enkhuizen (Day 3, Monday), there is an optional excursion to the Zuiderzee Museum. There is a ferry which departs for the museum from very close to Serena’s mooring place (included in the €17 charge). I didn’t book this because I wanted to keep my options open, but did go to the museum independently.

  • In Lemmer (Day 3, Monday) you can take an excursion to the world’s largest steam-powered pumping station, Woudagamaal.

  • On Texel island (Day 5, Wednesday), you can hire a Tuk Tuk which you drive yourself. Not something which appeals to me, and I thought the €120 charge rather high. Somewhat academic, though, as itinerary changes meant we did not go to Texel at all.

  • In Amsterdam, you can take a canal tour on Friday afternoon/evening, after the final cycle ride (Day 7). The convenient feature here is that the canal boat leaves from the jetty right next to where Serena berths. I felt no need to book this as there are so many different companies offering these cruises, so I could choose one at a convenient time for myself.

Life on Board
The previous week, about seven of the fifty-or-so guests had booked as English-speakers. For this week, I was the only one! This gave the Tour Guide, Wolfgang, his justification to drop English-language briefings entirely; as he said to me, “You already know the route information,” so that was that. Captain Bianca, however, rose to the occasion in her public address announcements, and generally gave an English announcement after her German one. This might have been because I quickly established my credentials as the village idiot by asking her “silly” questions (surprisingly enough, on the last morning, she said she enjoys these interactions with the passengers) either if I happened to see her around the boat, or, if she was in the wheel house by knocking on the glass and shouting a question. “Is that Almere over there?” “So, where’s Lelystad?” “What was that strange-looking boat we passed before reaching Marken island?” “What’s the difference in height between Markermeer and IJsselmeer? How does it come about?” She’s a remarkably patient woman!

Navigating the Daily Routes
This is a self-guided tour; the Tour Guide does not lead the cycle rides.

The principal resources for finding your way are the two booklets provided, the map booklet and the route description (text), which can be slipped into the map cover of the handlebar bag which is included in the bike hire. These make use of the network of knooppunts which has been developed in Belgium and the Netherlands to assist with bicycle travel across these countries. So it’s “cycling by numbers”: you find your way onto the network and then follow the signs to the next numbered node (“knooppunt”) on your route and from there to the next, and so on, until you reach the one closest to your destination. This reduces the “tricky bits” to knowing how to get from your starting point onto the network, at which point you will start seeing the arrow signs giving directions, and how to find your way to your finishing point when you leave the network. The map booklet shows the location of each knooppunt, so if you want to deviate from one of the (usually three) suggested routes, it’s a simple matter to work out the new sequence of knooppunts you need to take.

Should anyone want them, GPS tracks can be downloaded from the website of SE-Tours (Rad & Reisen’s local agent). Click on the name of the boat, MS Serena, and expand the list of resources available — the route and map booklets are also here (printed versions will be in your cabin on arrival).


Day 1 (Saturday): Amsterdam to Hoorn
Boarding starts at 15:00 (3 pm), but bags can be left on the boat from 11:00. At 17:00 (5 pm) a welcome briefing is given in the Salon, with an introductory cocktail and introductions for all the members of the crew. Usually, the Captain and sailing crew will leave the briefing once they’ve fulfilled their parts, allowing them to set sail for Hoorn while the remainder of the briefing continues, but on this occasion, two guests had suffered a delay on their train journey, so departure was held back until they arrived shortly after the briefing ended.

For this reason, for some minutes before dinner, there was an opportunity to go up on to the sun deck and watch as Serena glided out of Amsterdam. And to return afterwards, as the boat was passing Marken island, its lighthouse engulfed in scaffolding, and to start a round of questions about Almere and Lelystad...

Welcome Dinner
French ham cream
Vegetable soup
Chicken breast with whisky crème sauce, carrots and mustard potatoes
Pancake a la Chef

Day 2 (Sunday): Hoorn to Enkhuizen; Sailing to Lemmer
Wolfgang held a route briefing in German at 09:00. I headed straight out on my bike, giving me an extra half-hour in Hoorn itself before getting in to the ride proper. The vast majority of people do not bother to visit the centre of Hoorn, a mistake they were fortunate enough to be able to correct later in the week because of changes from the standard itinerary. It’s only a two-minute ride if you turn left immediately after the little bridge in the harbour and then left again at the T-junction taking you into an interesting square in Hoorn.

On this occasion, I took the coastal route, with a little incursion inland at Oosterleek (knooppunt 09 towards 67 and back), which, by sheer fluke, took me past a tulip field (which I hadn’t seen at all from the coast), not yet in full bloom but promising nevertheless, and on to a windmill spotted some time earlier. I noticed one group had turned inland at the previous junction and I encountered them returning to the coast along this route. I could see theirs had been a clever move, for it took them past a little restaurant as well as the windmill and the bulbfield. (Turn off the coastal path mid-way between 80 and 09, turn right in Wijdenes to 67 and rejoin the coastal path at 09).

On arrival in Enkhuizen, I deposited most of my cycling baggage in my cabin and cycled “light” to the Zuiderzee Museum. I spent most of my time in the outdoor part of the museum, but kept half an hour for a quick circuit of the indoor part, which is across the road and some way along from the main entranceway. One ticket gains access to both parts.

Because of expected weather conditions, the boat sailed across IJsselmeer in the evening rather than the following morning.

GPS Metrics
Distance28.7 km
Active Time01:37
Elapsed Time03:25
Average Active Speed17.6 kmh-1
Max Speed26.7 kmh-1
Total Ascent37 m
Total Descent35 m
Max Altitude9 m
Min Altitude-2 m
Calories619
Evening Meal
Vegetable quiche
Pumpkin cream soup
Pork ragout, fried vegetables and rice
Panna cotta

Day 3 (Monday): Lemmer
The weather was not at all promising, with a steady drizzle and high winds. Many people decided not to cycle, instead staying on the boat or venturing into Hoorn on foot, but a number took the optional excursion to the pumping station. (Incidentally, the station is not on any of the cycle routes shown for the day’s rides, but is shown on the following day’s map as “Woudagamaal”. I believe Tour Guide Wolfgang escorts those who have booked, even though directions look straight-forward.)

There are two highlights on this ride. Firstly, (between knooppunts 60 and 61) a bridge where the custom is to lower a wooden clog for collection of the fee from ships which wish to pass. On receipt of the €3 fee placed in the clog, the bridge is raised and the ship passes underneath. Secondly, (between knooppunts 81 and 02) a hand-cranked ferry enabling cyclists and pedestrians to cross a canal. The previous week, the clog custom had not got underway for the season (though the bridge operator was very nice to me, showed me the clog and line, and took some photographs of me holding them) and the hand-cranked ferry had been inoperative because of a broken cable, so everyone who had cycled out to it had had to turn back and sort out a new route for themselves.

Wolfgang had not been able to establish if the hand-cranked ferry had been fixed, so I devised my own cycle ride, which essentially cut right across the middle of the suggested route to approach the ferry from the opposite direction. I came across a sign which told me, “Fietspont he gestremd” (Google Translate → still broken).

I turned back, to head to the clog bridge and, for the first time faced the full force of the wind. What had been a wind-assisted ride out became a very difficult journey, especially out in open countryside where there was no cover whatsoever. I reached the bridge to find a couple of people from the boat emerging from the restaurant on the opposite bank. Bad news: because of the high winds, no boats were passing which meant no custom of lowering the clog. Nothing for it but to return to the boat, buffeted by the wind all the way until reaching the shelter afforded by the buildings of Lemmer.

GPS Metrics
Distance34.8 km
Active Time02:18
Elapsed Time03:10
Average Active Speed14.8 kmh-1
Max Speed28.5 kmh-1
Total Ascent101 m
Total Descent107 m
Max Altitude55 m
Min Altitude6 m
Calories750
Evening Meal
Fresh salad with apple and bacon
Wild mushroom soup
Redfish fillet with risotto and spring vegetables
Apfel Strüdel

Day 4 (Tuesday): Lemmer to Stavoren, then sailing to Hoorn
(Standard itinerary: Sailing to Oudeschild, on Texel Island, rather than Hoorn)
Three different routes are outlined in the route and map booklets. The recommendation is to start on the route shown in red, swap on to the purple and then swap again, onto the orange route on the map. I had done this the previous week, so, for variety, this time I stuck with the purple route rather than following the orange one. I found the orange route offered the more interesting ride.

The first place of interest is Sloten, billed as the smallest city in Friesland. Along a main street you arrive at a bridge; from here you can see another bridge with a windmill adjacent to it. If you go down to this bridge, on the windmill side of the canal, you will find the city’s pillory ... in working order.

From Sloten, you proceed through farmland to the village of Balk, which actually appears to be a larger connurbation than the “city” of Sloten, with a shop-lined street, on which a bakkarij seemed to be doing good trade from cyclists from the boat.

It was necessary to be in Stavoren by around 12:30, for the plan was for the cycles to be loaded aboard and for the boat to depart by 13:00 (1 pm). This was considerably earlier than the previous week, so there was not a lot of time for exploring.

As the boat left Stavoren, I was still unaware of where we were heading; I’d heard it was unlikely to be Oudeschild, the scheduled port. Very soon, Captain Bianca made an announcement in German, and I picked out the word “Hoorn”. A minute or two later, she remembered to give an English announcement as well, and Hoorn was confirmed as our destination.

GPS Metrics
Distance38.6 km
Active Time02:15
Elapsed Time03:39
Average Active Speed17.2 kmh-1
Max Speed26.5 kmh-1
Total Ascent54 m
Total Descent56 m
Max Altitude9 m
Min Altitude1 m
Calories801
Evening Meal
Greek Salad
Vegetable cream soup
Pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce, Dutch stampot and green beans with bacon
Chocolate mousse

Day 5 (Wednesday): Round Trip from Hoorn
(Standard itinerary: Texel Island)
Having previously observed other people’s experiences when they have a birthday on a bike and boat tour, I’d resolved always to ensure I did not book for a week which coincided with my birthday. Because of multiple postponements which had come about because of the pandemic, this rule had been broken and the fateful day had arrived. I’d also concluded that, in order to avoid everyone else realising what a curmudgeon I really am, the only couse of action was to embrace the occasion, so I came prepared with a “Birthday Boy” rosette and some birthday balloons (which I’d actually pressed into service the previous day when I overheard people in the cabin next to mine singing “Happy Birthday”). Still, it was something of a surprise to arrive at breakfast to discover my place decorated with balloons, ribbons, chocolate eggs and extra lunch-time goodies. Yes, there was a round of “Happy Birthday”, which many of the other guests joined in, skillfully avoiding the trap of getting to the name and then realising they didn’t know it. Then, returning to my cabin after breakfast, I discovered House-Keeper Kwarta (? spelling), had been busy decorating the spare bed with what I took to be a little puppy made out of towels, with more chocolate mini-eggs and little flower-like decorations. I couldn’t help but be impressed at the imagination and creative potential which had gone into producing this. During the day, too, I was touched by the number of people who, at one point or another, came to wish me a happy birthday.

At the Route Briefing the previous evening, Tour Guide Wolfgang had outlined a proposed round-trip cycle ride from Hoorn, going out to De Rijp and passing by the Museum Windmills at Schermerhorn. Some sheets were produced to help people navigate the route; I wrote down the knooppunt numbers on a Post-It note and used that.

As in the Lemmer round-trip ride a couple of days earlier, the wind (no rain of any note this time round) made it tough cycling, particularly on the outbound stretch. At the bridge over the canal at the entrance to Schermerhorn, I stopped to take some photographs. A group from the boat arrived, all of them on e-bikes, and one told me they were already on their second batteries, so were going to take a short-cut which would take them through the town to the Museum Windmills and then back to the boat. I decided to plough on to De Rijp, though it was hard going, taking the best part of an hour to cover around 7 km.

From De Rijp, cycling generally became much easier, with the wind direction more favourable, though occasionally there were gusts from unexpected directions. The route back passed through Graft, Grootschermer, past the Museum Windmills, skirting round Schermerhorn and past a number of windmills into Ursem and then along what seemed very straight roads back into Hoorn.

In the evening, a Happy-Hour had been announced in the Salon between 21:00 - 22:00 (9-10 pm), when Jenever was available in a 2-for-1 deal. I went to explore and discovered a convivial atmosphere, a karaoke in progress with one member of crew and one guest both being very prominent, and even a bit of dancing going on. I noted the Jenever had not been selling, but my request of a 3-for-1 deal met with with short shrift from Hotel Manager Monika, so I settled for a G&T instead (at €6.75 several times the cost of the Jenever, even without the deal). Captain Bianca was also there, engaged in conversation with two other captains; I wondered why the captains meet on our boat. I learned the Captain drinks free in the bar, but had no reason to believe that wasn’t also true on the others’ boats; regardless, they were maintaining sobriety.

GPS Metrics
Distance51.9 km
Active Time03:24
Elapsed Time05:56
Average Active Speed15.2 kmh-1
Max Speed29.1 kmh-1
Total Ascent212 m
Total Descent153 m
Max Altitude30 m
Min Altitude0 m
Calories1161
Evening Meal
Herb cream cheese a la Chef
Cream of celery soup
Pork neck with gravy, farmer cabbage and dumplings
Grandma’s cheesecake

Day 6 (Thursday): Day Trip by Train to Alkmaar from Hoorn
(Standard Itinerary: Den Helder to Alkmaar)
High winds expected in the afternoon and into the evening meant that cycling (as well as shipping) was deemed inadvisable. Tour Guide Wolfgang had made two suggestions: have a day trip by train to Alkmaar (where we would have arrived today under the standard itinerary); or use a steam train to visit Medemblik, where there is a steam museum. The steam train service seemed fairly limited and my thinking was that high winds and steam trains were probably not a good combination, so I choose the Alkmaar option.

Alkmaar has a cheese market on Fridays (10:00 - 13:00; 10 am - 1 pm), an event designed for tourists. I overheard a few of the guests discussing this with Tour Guide Wolfgang, disappointed that, because of the change of itinerary, we would not be there on the Friday morning and would, therefore, have no opportunity to attend. (I read the cheese market has been held from 1365, so, by now, the cheese must be pretty mature...) Even without the cheese market, Alkmaar is worth a visit, so if the opportunity comes, take it.

Evening Meal
Capers Salad
Cream of tomato soup
Roast beef with red wine sauce, red cabbage and dumplings bread
Tiramisu

Day 7 (Friday): Zaandam to Amsterdam via Zaanse Schans
(Standard Itinerary: Wormerveer to Amsterdam, via Zaanse Schans)
The high winds over, Serena slipped out of Hoorn before breakfast and headed towards Amsterdam and on to Zaandam to enable something similar to the standard itinerary’s final cycle ride to be accomplished, crucially, allowing a visit to the so-called “museum village” of Zaanse Schans. (The previous week, a resident, emerging from her home, insisted, “They call this a museum. It’s not! We live here. These are people’s homes, not museum exhibits.” And then, very kindly and unexpectedly, she invited me in for a private tour and to take photos.)

It’s worth reiterating that, in the Zaans Museum (the building which does call itself a museum), if you buy an admission ticket or something from the gift shop or restaurant, the receipt incorporates a bar code which can be scanned at the toilets, avoiding the €1 payment which, otherwise, is required.

Judging from the absence of any other tour bike, I seemed to be the last from the boat to leave Zaanse Schans (again!). After heading alongside roads, the route into Amsterdam passes through open countryside, into a little hamlet and on to a lakeland area known as The Twiske. The café Paviljoen Twiske, on the waterside very close to knooppunt 17, received Tour Guide Wolfgang’s recommendation and is about half-way to Amsterdam. From there, you continue through The Twiske, past a windmill and then a monument to a crashed WW2 bomber, after which you’re very soon into the environs of Amsterdam and following signs for “Centrum Knooppunt 05”. The free passenger ferry takes you across to Amsterdam Centraal station, from where it’s a short ride to the boat. There is an optional boat tour round Amsterdam’s canals later in the afternoon, so the Captain’s Dinner starts a little later than the others.

I was pleased to see the pirate flag I’d bought in a souvenir shop in Zaanse Schans flying at the Captain’s table. The final moment of theatre comes immediately prior to the serving of dessert when, to the playing of some music (I don’t recall what) on the speaker installed for the occasion, Chef Robert parades round the Restaurant holding aloft his Grand Dessert du Chef with flaming candles spurting fire on top. I’m not sure if it’s intended as a moment of comedy, but it did seem a “trifle” ridiculous.

GPS Metrics
Distance37.5 km
Active Time02:11
Elapsed Time05:36
Average Active Speed16.7 kmh-1
Max Speed27.5 kmh-1
Total Ascent52 m
Total Descent52 m
Max Altitude17 m
Min Altitude0 m
Calories798
Captain’s Farewell Dinner
Amuse-bouche
Curried chicken pineapple salad
Oxtail soup with omelette Julienne
Salmon fillet dill sauce, broccoli, and bataty mix
Grand dessert du Chef

Day 8 (Saturday): Departure
On the final morning, breakfast starts at 07:00 (to 09:00). People with cabins on the main deck can leave their bags outside their cabins before 07:30, and crew will take them up to the Salon. Bags can be left in the Salon until 14:00 (2 pm), so people who are not departing Amsterdam until later in the day can do some sight-seeing without having to haul their bags with them, or pay for the lockers at the station.

I saw this as an opportunity for a canal boat ride. From immediately outside the city side of Amsterdam Centraal station I found a company offering hour long cruises for literally half the price of the one from the tour and was impressed that, before departing, the skipper passed along outside the boat, making sure the windows were wiped clean; they were scratch-free, too.

Photographs
I never find it easy to select just two photographs to illustrate a week of cycling!

My first photograph is of Roode Steen square in Hoorn. Although off the strict route, the square is only a couple of minutes’ cycling from the bridge in Hoorn harbour.

The second photograph is of the windmill in the outdoor section of the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. A tour of the Zuiderzee Museum is an option, but well worth the admission fee (€18 at the gate in 2022, possibly cheaper from the Tour Guide on the boat) if the weather is fine (most of the museum is outdoors) and you have sufficient time available.

  • Overall satisfaction 5
    Booking handling 5
    Travel documents 6
    Per-Tour information 6
    Accomodation 5
    Board 6
    Route description 5
    On-site assistance 4
    Route-character 5
    Bicycle + equipment 6
    Price-performance ratio 4
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