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Detailed Travel-Report

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5,3 03.05.2022 | Stephen M. Discover North Holland by Bike + Boat MV SERENA

At Last!

Overall:
What a joy to be back in The Netherlands on a bike and boat tour in the spring time!

Highlights

  • Towns of Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Lemmer, Sloten and Stavoren visited on this tour.
  • The natural world: trees in blossom, spring flowers, water birds, wild and domesticated animals encountered along the route.
  • Company of other people on the boat, particularly Kate and Isobel from New Zealand, the crew members, and chance encounters with local folk along the way.

Niggles:

  • On this tour, the major gripe, which other reviewers have pointed out, is the absence of English in most communications: the daily schedule on the notice board, the daily route briefings, the majority of ship’s announcements and the introductory and farewell sessions. There are some potentially serious repercussions to this, such as with understanding the safety features of the ship (use of the life vests is demonstrated, and, hopefully, most people will have spotted them on the top shelf of the wardrobe in their cabin); the conventions on board for what to do with your cabin key when you go ashore; knowing which bike is allocated to you; arrangements for paying your bar bill at the end and for leaving the ship. All these are things English-only speakers could be completely oblivious of. If this trip was presented as German-speaking only, then, fair enough, but if SE-Tours is advertising both German and English are used on board, then they must do a lot more to make this a reality. (It almost goes without saying that the actual crew members, largely from Slovakia, are more comfortable with English than German, so communications on an individual basis are no problem, it’s the lack of official communication in English which needs to be addressed.)
  • Impending storms expected on the Thursday into Friday caused the itinerary to be adjusted, missing out the Den Helder to Wormerveer leg of the tour.
  • Still some Coronavirus restrictions (especially at Schipol Airport), but once in The Netherlands, things were pretty much “back to normal”.

Rad & Reisen’s local agent: SE-Tours

Date of my Tour: 2022-03-26/04-02 (7 nights / 8 days)

Options Chosen:

  • 2-bed cabin on main deck, for single use.
  • Travel documents in English.
  • Bike without a coaster (“back-pedal”) brake.

Materials Supplied
A few weeks prior to the tour, I received the following documents from Rad & Reisen, as attachments to an e-mail:

  • Travel Information Booklet.
  • Route Description booklet
  • Route Map booklet
  • Street Plan of Amsterdam.
  • Receipts.

In my cabin on arrival:

  • Route Description Booklet.
  • Map Booklet.

At most towns at which the ship berths, simple tear-off town plan sheets are made available at the counter in Reception.

Transfers:
I flew to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, from where I took a train directly to Amsterdam Centraal station (€5.70, one way; slightly cheaper with an OV-chipkaart, though it needs to have a balance of at least €20.00 to use it on the railways). Reaching the boat from the station is very simple, though previous bike and boat holidaymakers should note, as a larger boat, Serena is NOT moored in Oosterdock! Instead, take the exits from the station to the River IJ (exit to “IJ Zijde”, rather than “Centrum”) and then proceed left (usually) or right (exceptionally) along the waterfront depending on the exact location which has been notified to you. It’s only a few hundred metres to the boat.

At the end of the tour, this route is executed in reverse, so all very simple and straight forward.

The boat Serena

On the jetty just outside the boat, the Tour Guide, Wolfgang, has installed a little reception area where he will perform pre-admission checks, particularly relating to Covid — “proof” of vaccination status (ie an EU-accepted certificate) and a completed health declaration form, which he appeared to expect to be the one issued by the German government, though, after I’d explained I’d downloaded mine from the Netherlands government site (after all, what authority does the German government have over travel in the Netherlands on a Netherlands-registered boat?), and he’d observed “the questions seem to be the same,” his acceptance was obtained. Boarding is at 15:00 (3 pm), though you can leave baggage from 11:00; your bags are taken on board by the crew and deposited in your cabin, so luggage labels, identifying your cabin number, must be attached (provided by Wolfgang, if necessary).

You board the boat straight into Reception, on the upper deck. From here, immediately at the front of the boat, is the Salon/Lounge, which incorporates the Bar. Along the corridor from Reception, at the very back, is the Restaurant. Upper deck cabins are located along this corridor. On the corridor, just behind Reception, there are two very steep stairwells leading to the cabins on the main deck, one for cabins towards the back (another stairwell at the very end leads up to the Restaurant) and one for cabins at the front (with a further stairwell here leading up into the Salon). There is no lift, so passengers unable to climb the (very steep) stairs to the cabins on the main deck should book a cabin on the upper deck. The final stairwell from Reception leads up to the sun deck.

Cabins are small, as is typical in these boats. In my cabin, the majority of the space was taken by the two single beds, along the left- and right-hand sides of the cabin, their heads against the hull. Between them was a very effective radiator with a shelf above it, with the (openable) cabin window above these. On the wall above the right-hand bed was a set of cupboards and shelves; inside these, there was a safe, which used a key provided with the cabin key, and a hairdryer was also tucked away here. Continuing on the right side of the cabin is the door to the bijou bathroom. A small wardrobe is provided on the left hand side of the cabin. On the top shelf of this there were two life jackets and some blankets. At the bottom of the wardrobe were two bicycle pannier bags and a handlebar bag. Toolkit and pump were on the shelf between the beds, together with the hard-copy cycling directions and map booklet.

The bathroom is essentially a shower room with a wash basin and toilet. Even with the shower curtain, expect the entire floor to get wet, though the house-keeping staf seem particularly skilled at leaving it dry again.

Life on Board
The boat was only about half-filled, presumably as a result of the pandemic, and it quickly became clear the vast majority of the 50 or so guests were German-speakers; only 7 English-speakers had booked: myself, two New Zealanders, a Swedish couple and a couple from French-speaking Switzerland, though one of these was of US descent.

On this tour, the usual daily schedule was breakfast between 07:30 - 09:00; cycling from whenever you’re ready after breakfast; afternoon refreshments (tea/coffee and cake) 15:30 - 16:00 (3.30 - 4 pm); German-language ride briefing 18:00 (6 pm); evening meal 18:30 (6.30 pm). For lunch, you make a packed lunch at breakfast time to take with you on the cycle ride. A bottle of water, a piece of fruit and a biscuity-type snack is also provided for your lunch pack.

On previous boats I’ve been on, there are facilities for making tea or coffee, free of charge, at least until some period into the evening. On this boat, however, this is not the case. Apart from at breakfast and during the afternoon refreshment period (15:30 - 16:00; ie 3.30 - 4 pm) teas and coffees are charged for, the same as any other drink, by signing for the drink at the bar or restaurant and then settling your bar bill, in cash in euro, on the Friday evening.

One of the advantages a bike-and-boat tour has over a moving-on bike-and-hotel tour is that, if you don’t want to cycle on any particular day, you don’t — you simply advise the tour guide you won’t be riding, and stay on the boat for the day, letting it take you to the day’s destination, relaxing on deck, in the lounge or in your cabin, making use of whatever facilities the boat has to offer. Of course, if the boat arrives early, there’s also the opportunity to go ashore for some sight-seeing. So, no one needs to feel pressurised to cycle if they don’t feel up to it.

On this tour, there are several cruises when the passengers are on board: the sailing from Amsterdam to Hoorn on the first evening; an early morning sailing from Enkhuizen to Lemmer on the Monday; an afternoon sailing from Stavoren to Oudeschild on Tuesday; and an evening sailing from Oudeschild to Den Helder on the Wednesday. At least, that’s the plan.

As far as on-board Wi-Fi is concerned, one of the German-speakers did show me a Wi-Fi service, but he also convinced me it wasn’t possible to get a connection. Don’t rely on on-boat Wi-Fi! — if you need Internet access, make your own arrangements; I temporarily increased my mobile data allowance and made sure “Data roaming” was active on my mobile phone, which I then used as a Wi-Fi hotspot if I wanted Internet access on some other device. On some of the sailings, the boat does go out of range of mobile phone masts, so, even with this arrangement, Internet access is not guaranteed.

Bike
My booking had included an option for a standard bicycle without a coaster brake (“back-pedal” brake) and this was honoured; the two hand-operated brakes worked effectively; in fact, I noticed, although they were rim brakes rather than disc, they were hydraulic, not cable-operated, so top-end brakes.

Gearing was provided by a Shimano Nexus-7 (7-speed) internal gear hub (in other words, high quality and very reliable) with a twist-grip shifter, which, typically for this type of gear, operated motor-bike style (rotating forwards goes down the gears, rotating backwards goes up). Unlike a derailleur gear system, hub gears can be changed even when the bike is stationary, so it doesn’t matter if you come to a halt in a high gear, you don’t have to struggle to get started again, just shift down to a low gear and start off easily. The range of gears available was quite sufficient for this route.

It was fitted with dynamo lighting powering both front and rear lights, which had been set at its “senso” setting (the light comes on automatically if the ambient lighting falls below a certain level). I switched it to its permanent “on” position. With a suitable adapter, you can use the power from the generator hub to provide USB power for small electronic devices.

There’s no cage for a water bottle, neither were there any bosses on the frame to enable a bracket to be fitted. (I had to resort to putting my water bottle in a pannier bag.) Each bike has a Klickfix handlebar bracket, which enables handlebar bags of various brands to be fitted. In each cabin a handlebar bag and pannier bag will be found, and twin cabins will have a second pannier bag. These are of high quality (VauDe brand) and completely waterproof when closed. The pannier bags allow tool-free adjustment for fitting to the rear rack, which has high and low-level rails for attaching the bags. I took both the pannier bags from my cabin on days when I thought rain more likely, to provide extra space for my gear I wanted to keep dry.

The map booklet or route instructions are put in the waterproof map holder on the top of the handlebar bag, giving complete visibility all the time. Couples who both want a handlebar bag (enabling one to use the map booklet, the other to use the route instructions), may need to bring one of their own handlebar bags, or request a second one.

Each bike had a lock which, when engaged, prevented the rear wheel from rotating; not particularly secure, but a common arrangement on the European mainland. During rides, each user is expected to lock the bike while away from it exploring on foot. Unlike previous locks of this sort I’ve encountered, these ones do NOT secure the key when the lock is open, so if you ride along with the key in the lock, it will rattle out and be lost. I kept mine in the handlebar bag. Initially, it is secured to the bicycle’s rear rack, attached to a credit-card piece of plastic.

Cycle Clothing
This was spring-time cycling. The first couple of days were sunny and warmer than average, but this changed during the course of the week with a storm on the Thursday with snow overnight, causing the planned itinerary to be abandoned for Thursday and Friday.

I had brought a mixture of cycle clothing allowing “layering-up” with a variety of base-, mid- and top layers, with warm and waterproof hats, jackets and over-trousers. I had a number of short-sleeve cycle jerseys, but always needed to wear arm-warmers as well; the same was true of legwear — full length always required. In the summer months, I would expect the balance to be the opposite, but in European climates, you always need to have the options covered!

The Tour Guide: Wolfgang
Wolfgang provided what appeared to be a thorough briefing for the German-speakers, usually starting at 18:00 (6 pm) and usually taking the full 30 minutes (or more!) prior to “abendessen” at 18:30 (6.30 pm). He then expected the English-speakers to have a 5-10 minute briefing, although this is never shown on the German-only daily schedule posted in Reception. This arrangement is clearly unsatisfactory on two counts: why is it so much shorter than the German-language briefing, and why is the scheduling designed to conflict with the timing of the evening meal? The theory developed is that Wolfgang isn’t fully comfortable speaking English, so he’d hit on this device to deter people from actually bothering with the briefing.

The Crew
Bianca, the boat’s Captain is Dutch, but the sailing crew is pretty international; David, the engineer, for example, is from the Philippines. The majority of the “Hotel crew” are from Slovakia, including Monika, the Manager.


Day 1 (Saturday): Amsterdam to Hoorn
The booklet received before the tour explains that bags can be deposited at the boat from 11:00, but that boarding starts at 15:00 (3 pm). 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. The Captain (Bianca) starts all this off, but hands over to other members, Hotel Manager Monika and Tour Guide Wolfgang, once the sailing crew have been introduced and a demonstration given of fitting the life vests, enabling her to cast off and set sail for Hoorn while the remainder of the introductions continue. All of this is entirely in German.

Following the introductory session, there was time prior to the evening meal, to go up on the Sun Deck to follow Serena’s departure from Amsterdam and into Markermeer. Then it’s time to head to the Restaurant to find out to which table you’ve been assigned and who your dining companions are.

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

Day 2 (Sunday): Hoorn to Enkhuizen
Wolfgang held a route briefing in German at 09:00, followed by a few minutes in English. This meant that, having discovered which was my bike (the key fact is to know it’s one with your cabin number on a label attached to the rear rack) and adjusted it to my liking, it was quite a late start.

Several different routes were proposed: a coastal route (which I had cycled several times before) and two others taking different inland courses. The recommendation was to take the coastal route at least to the first knooppunt (62) to avoid a rather drab route otherwise.

I noticed that few, if any, people were bothering to take the two-minute detour from the standard route into the historic centre of Hoorn — a mistake, for it’s well worth a visit, and, in fact, a highlight.

In Enkhuizen, there was an optional tour to the Zuiderzee Museum, which, officially, had not opened for the season, but was opened specifically for tourists from the boat; a bargain at €17, for the standard admission fee is €18.

GPS Metrics
Distance30.0 km
Active Time01:52
Elapsed Time03:32
Average Active Speed15.9 kmh-1
Max Speed23.2 kmh-1
Total Ascent37 m
Total Descent52 m
Max Altitude23 m
Min Altitude-5 m
Calories588
Evening Meal
Vegetable quiche
Pumpkin cream soup
Roast beef with red wine sauce, red cabbage and dumpling bread
Apfel Strüdel

Day 3 (Monday): Lemmer
For this round-trip ride, there were again several options of varying lengths. I found this the least interesting day’s ride of the entire tour and disappointing in several regards .

One highlight of this ride was the spring flowers growing along the roadside, particularly native daffodils.

The Swedish couple on the tour told me they rode the route in the opposite direction from that suggested and I have to say I could see the sense in doing so, for it would mean a scenic area on the north coast would be encountered in the afternoon sunshine affording potentially better views than in the morning mists.

GPS Metrics
Distance47.3 km
Active Time02:54
Elapsed Time04:35
Average Active Speed16.3 kmh-1
Max Speed23.4 kmh-1
Total Ascent62 m
Total Descent74 m
Max Altitude43 m
Min Altitude2 m
Calories968
Evening Meal
Fresh salad with apple and bacon
Wild mushroom soup
?
Grandma’s cheesecake

Day 4 (Tuesday): Lemmer to Stavoren, then sailing to Oudeschild
Again, there are several route possibilities.

This is a watch-the-clock ride in that, it was necessary to be ready to board the boat in Stavoren at 14:30 (2.30 pm) for the boat had to be away by 15:00 (3 pm). In fact, it arrived somewhat late, but the crew worked feverishly to get the bikes up on board and I was enjoying tea and cherry tart in the Salon very shortly after 3 as the boat sailed away.

As we approached Afsluitdijk (the dyke that closed off the Zuiderzee to create IJsselmeer) at Den Oever, a good crowd developed on the Sun Deck to watch the ship pass through the lock into the Wadden Sea.

GPS Metrics
Distance41.3 km
Active Time02:34
Elapsed Time05:15
Average Active Speed16.0 kmh-1
Max Speed26.8 kmh-1
Total Ascent87 m
Total Descent72 m
Max Altitude24 m
Min Altitude-3 m
Calories842
Evening Meal
Greek Salad
Asparagus crème soup
Salmon with dill sauce, spinach and bataty puré
Panna cotta

Day 5 (Wednesday): Texel Island, then sailing to Enkhuizen
Once again, the route booklet had routes for three suggested rides. I used bits from one of these to make my own route, which is easily done using the provided map booklet.

I made my way up to the north of the island, to the lighthouse, which I wanted to see. Heading inland, there are only a few roads going north/south and I was pleased to discover the one I’d chosen passed beside bulb fields in full bloom (daffodils, rather than tulips). The lighthouse area also gets you onto a fabulous sandy beach and the sand dunes. From the lighthouse, I took the cycle path along the dunes down the west side of the island to the beach resort of De Koog (a concrete path all the way). I then turned inland again (a slight disruption caused by maintenance work on the cycle path), skirted round Den Burg, the main city of Texel island, and returned to Oudeschild in time for the sailing (and the afternoon refreshments!).

It now emerged that a storm was brewing and the boat would not be heading to Den Helder. Instead, we’d be sailing to Enkhuizen, where we would berth overnight. The remainder of the standard tour itinerary would no longer apply.

GPS Metrics
Distance52.9 km
Active Time03:07
Elapsed Time05:55
Average Active Speed16.2 kmh-1
Max Speed35.6 kmh-1
Total Ascent152 m
Total Descent126 m
Max Altitude33 m
Min Altitude-13 m
Calories1102
Evening Meal
Curried chicken pineapple salad
Cream of celery soup
Homemade pork roll with onion sauce, grilled tomato and dumplings
Chocolate mousse

Day 6 (Thursday): Zaandam to Amsterdam via Zaanse Schans
(Standard Itinerary: Den Helder to Alkmaar)
The boat departed early from Enkhuizen, passing through Amsterdam and on to Zaandam, where we disembarked and cycled on the east side of the Zaan river towards the museum village of Zaanse Schans in an approximation of what would normally be the Friday’s ride.

A good tip at Zaanse Schans is that, in the Zaans Museum, if you buy something from the restaurant, or the gift shop, or an admission ticket, the receipt incorporates a bar code which can be scanned at the toilets, avoiding the €1 payment which, otherwise, is required.

Leaving Zaanse Schans in what had turned into a wet afternoon, I noticed no other tour bikes were still there. Heading along the way, I came across two of the German women coming in the opposite direction. “Are you sure you’re going the right way?” they asked. “Absolutely!” I replied (because I was) and we cycled together all the way to Amsterdam and the joys of a warm, dry boat, tea, cake and charming crew members to serve it all up.

GPS Metrics
Distance31.7 km
Active Time02:03
Elapsed Time05:24
Average Active Speed15.4 kmh-1
Max Speed28.0 kmh-1
Total Ascent53 m
Total Descent50 m
Max Altitude10m
Min Altitude-12 m
Calories614
Evening Meal
Capers Salad
Cream of tomato soup
Redfish fillet with risotto and spring vegetables
Tiramisu

Day 7 (Friday): Day in Amsterdam
(Standard Itinerary: Wormerveer to Amsterdam, via Zaanse Schans)
We awoke to evidence of snow overnight in Amsterdam. The weather forecast was for a sunny day with rain on Saturday; on the basis of this, I decided to make a trip to the Keukenhof Gardens, near Lisse, and to explore Amsterdam on the Saturday. Had I known the extent of the snow and that Saturday would also turn out fine, I might have reversed the decision.

I booked a ticket for the Keukenhof Gardens which included admission to the Gardens and bus transport from RAI in Amsterdam (located in Europaplein). The booking process allowed me to pay in my home currency, rather than euro, which I did. From Amsterdam Centraal, Europaplein is reached on the Metro, about 4 stops along the line. There are 6 buses an hour from RAI to the Gardens and the journey time is around 35 minutes. The Gardens are open only for 6-8 weeks in the spring.

It was quite early in the season, a few weeks before the flowers in the gardens would be at their most magnificent, and the snow had been more extensive than I had realised, meaning, in the morning especially, the snow covering the flowers was still melting, but I still felt it was a worthwhile experience and something of a novelty to see the snow cover around the gardens. The flower displays in the pavilions, such as the Willem-Alexander Paviljoen, were, of course, spectacular.

Captain’s Farewell Dinner
Amuse-bouche
Smoked salmon tartar with yoghurt dressing
Oxtail soup with omelette Julienne
Pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce, potatoes and green beans in bacon
Grand dessert du Chef

Day 8 (Saturday): Departure
Baggage can be left in the Salon until 14:00 (2 pm), so a number of the German guests who had driven to Amsterdam took advantage of this by collecting their cars from the long-stay car parks and driving them to the waterside for loading-up. A few may have even had their cars delivered to the boat.

My stay in the Netherlands was continuing, so I had a day in Amsterdam, walking along the major belt of canals, into the “Nine Streets” and on to the Museumkwartier and then into nearby Vondelpark.

Photographs
As ever, it’s difficult to select just two photographs to illustrate a week’s cycle-touring.

My first photograph is of the lighthouse at the northern end of Texel Island. The cyclists in the foreground are at knooppunt 31, which is at the start of the cyclepath along the dunes on the west coast of the island, down to De Koog.

The second photograph is of Zaanse Schans, taken at the northern edge of the site. In the foreground is an outcrop of the native daffodils spotted all over the Netherlands in our spring-time cycling. The modern concrete-fronted building to the left is the Zaans Museum, then the windmills, left-to-right as seen from this angle, are De Zoeker (oil mill), Het Jonge Schaap (saw mill) obscuring De Kat (paint mill) behind, De Os (no vanes) and De Gekroonde Poelenburg (saw mill).

  • 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 5
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