A Travellerspoint blog

April 2019

King’s Day in Amsterdam

An unforgettable day!

View Travels by barge, bike & boat on themaggiej's travel map.

Our final day of cycling from Haarlem to Amsterdam happened to fall on King’s Day when the Dutch let down their hair with National fervour throughout the country from the tiniest village to the large towns.

The day boded poorly with rain, strong winds and a temperature of just 13 forecast. The only saving grace was the wind was to be a tail wind or a cross wind. Only 8 of our intrepid riders, (which included us!) took to their steeds for this final ride of the tour. The forecast was accurate although the rain held off until Amsterdam and was only heavy for the last 5 minutes before rejoining the barge.

Setting off from the Elodie for our final ride. I was the sweep that day, hence the green vest.,

All the small towns we rode through on our 30km route were busy preparing for the celebrations with stalls for food and beer. Part of the tradition is to set up sidewalk stalls for families and children to sell pre loved goods. The day/night before they mark out their territory with tape or chalk. Just before Amsterdam the local community had taken over the bike path for their stalls and it was impossible to get through. Our guide Nina used local knowledge to find our way around. About 1230 we arrived on the outskirts of the city to find the party was well underway with crowds of people adorned in some form orange, the national colour, jamming the roads and waterways. Heineken appeared to be the preferred drink with beer stalls and loud music everywhere. The canal boats were overflowing with revellers drinking and singing and the canals were overflowing with boats. Boat jams were occurring at every tunnel under the numerous bridges. The street where we stayed on arrival in Amsterdam had turned into one long party street, with food stalls and people selling all sorts of orange items to wear.

Anyone for an oyster?

Or perhaps an orange wig?

Although it was bitterly cold with intermittent showers, we were anxious to get out and experience this special day in the Netherlands that we had heard so much about, especially as we were at its epicentre in Amsterdam. So, about 4 o'clock, 7 of us braved the elements to go out and experience King’s Day as only the Dutch in Amsterdam could celebrate it. I think the pictures tell the story. In some locations around the canal bridges it was almost impossible to get through the throngs. However, at one particularly heavy partying area, we just held onto each other’s coats and were carried along by the crowd. Everyone was in a jovial mood, but it was pleasing to see was how well behaved and friendly the people were. It was such a fun filled atmosphere, if not a little crazy. Despite the weather, the crowds and the alcohol, everybody was just out there to have a good time.

Boat jam on the canal

People jam in the streets


We managed to all stay together despite the crowds, and after wandering through some of the streets and canalsides, we sought refuge for a drink and pizza before making our way back through the crowed streets for some peace at the Elodie.

However the night was not yet over as we had an unexpected visitor about 9pm. A highly intoxicated young man rolled on board adamant that this was his boat and he had a cabin for the night. Nothing we could do would persuade him otherwise and he was getting quite belligerent. Fortunately the river police were passing by and they came to our aid. However, after they thought they’d dealt with him and got him off our boat, the intruder proceeded to board an adjoining barge, before we managed to get the retreating police back again. This time they determined that he had cabin number 410 on a cruise liner about 1km away and eventually steered him in the right direction.

Not long after, Chango arrived back from his expedition to the town with one of the guests and, after explaining why all the doors were locked and why he couldn’t get in, he had an even better story to tell as he had rescued a young lady who fell into the canal while having a pee. She protested he couldn't help her out as her knickers were down around her ankles, but this did not deter him from his chivalry.

What an unforgettable day and what better way to end our wonderful barge and bike tour! We’ve had such a fun week with a really great group of people.

Tomorrow the next adventure begins.

Posted by themaggiej 10:34 Archived in Netherlands Comments (5)

Aalsmeer & Keukenhof

Not a tough day at all!

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Travels by barge, bike & boat on themaggiej's travel map.

Nina said in our briefing last night that if we didn’t like flowers this would be a tough day! Well, the toughest part of the day was leaving the Elodie at sunrise (6.20am) to cycle 6km to to the Aalsmeer Flower Market. After that, it was all uphill - the day that is!

The Aalsmeer Flower Market is the largest flower auction in the world. It began almost one hundred years ago in a cafe in nearby Aalsmeer and is now the basis for an international business.

Some facts about the Aalsmeer Flower Market
- Every day about 6000 growers from around the world provide flowers to be auctioned
- Over 1000 exporters and wholesalers ensure that flowers and plants find their way to customers all over the world.
- Every day, 20 million cut flowers and 2 million plants pass through this auction
- Of the flowers and plants that pass through these auctions, about 85% are exported the same day
- Most remain within a radius of 1500 km and go to Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia or Eastern Europe.
- Principal import countries include Israel, Kenya, Uganda, and also European countries such as France and Denmark.
- Trades over 12 billion flowers and plants annually

Visitors walk on a raised platform that runs for about one kilometre up and back through the middle of a giant warehouse. From there you have a birds eye view of what is going on in the warehouse below - containers of flowers being delivered and moved to different parts of the warehouse as they are sold and you also see into the auction rooms to see the bidding in action. It was an absolutely fascinating process to observe. You can get an idea of it from the videos and pictures below.





The auction room. Bidding is done by the clock and runs very quickly.


Following our visit to the flower market we cycled back to the barge, where we had breakfast while the barge motored for 21/2 hours to Lisse for our next floral feast of the day, Keukenhof.

Keukenhof is one of the world's largest flower gardens, where approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted annually in an area which covers 79 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. The gardens were established in 1949 and are open from mid-March to mid-May, containing many types of bulbs and other plants and shrubs, however, it is the tulips which steal the show and make it so well known. We enjoyed 3 hours of free time to wander through the gardens on a cold but fine day, and although the warm weather had taken its toll on many of the blooms, there were still some stunning flowers to be seen.

Here are some of them - I loved so many that it was hard just to choose a few to share with you!

This is one of the many tulip fields that surround Keukenhof that we passed on the way there.

All below are in Keukenhof.





















Following our visit to the Keukenhof, it was back on the bikes and off to Haarlem, passing several more colourful fields of tulips before we would reunite with the Elodie to spend the night in Haarlem, which looked like such a delightful town as we cycled in.

Team Elodie enroute to Haarlem

After dinner we went out for our evening guided town tour of Haarlem with Nina, (a bit later than usual and too late for photos) and saw that, despite all the revellers in the town squares cafes and bars getting in the mood for King’s Day the next day, you could see it was a really lovely town with some beautiful buildings and a lovely atmosphere



We returned to the Elodie to find our own little bit of pre Kings Day atmosphere as Chango and Hans had decorated the salon with orange flags and put out some Oranjebitter, a favourite Kings Day orange liqueur due to its orange colour. A nice end to a great day.



Posted by themaggiej 12:54 Archived in Netherlands Comments (7)

The Hague & Leiden

A licorice allsorts kind of day

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Today we started with a visit to the Delft Pottery, the blue and white pottery which has made the town of Delft well known. We saw some artisans at work, each piece is hand painted and takes several weeks to complete through the various processes. This explains why even a small plate costs about $70. Two fridge magnets and a postcard sufficed for us!


This was followed by a short ride to The Hague. Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, The Hague is the seat of the Cabinet, the States General, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State of the Netherlands. It is the home of the King and Queen and most foreign embassies in the Netherlands are located in the city. The Hague is known as the home of international law and arbitration. The International Court of Justice, the main judicial arm of the United Nations, is located in the city, as well as the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Europol, and approximently 200 other international governmental organisations.

International Court of Justice at The Hague where all peace talks are held. Known in The Hague as the Peace Palace.

Royal Palace The Hague

Our guide recommended we go the Panorama Art Museum to see a unique form of art which existed late in the 19th century. The aim was to create a 3D like experience by creating a painting that surrounds the viewer. In this case the view encompassed a sea scape and the shoreline surrounding the beach. The painting was done on a 3m high canvas approximately 120m long which wraps around the viewer. Realism is added by putting the painting on top of a small sand dune which flows into the painting and by putting a roof on top of the pavilion which hides the top of the painting. The effect is extraordinary as when you climb into the centre of the pavilion and look out at the beach it is like statins on a hill and looking at the surrounding landscape. After a year of predatory work to sketch out each of the overlapping sections it then took 4 artists three months to paint the panorama.

Two of the four sections of the panorama

After leaving The Hague we had a complete change of scenery as we rode through sand dunes, an undulating 15km till we reached the coast at Katwijk. We thought it was rather like some of the beaches along the Atlantic that we went through on our last cycling trip in France, very wide but not as impressive as our lovely Aussie beaches. There were lots of clouds gathering and the wind had picked up considerably, heralding an expected change in the weather. From there we then turned inland to join the Elodie at Leiden fortunately before rain set in later that evening.

Nina leading us through the dunes

Aaaaahhh, so good to arrive back at the Elodie!

Leiden is another delightful Dutch town set within a network of canals lined with 17th century houses. It was once home to Rembrandt and is now home to 27,000 local and international students who study here at the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. It has been Europe’s prominent scientific centre since the university was founded in 1575 and lists Albert Einstein as one of its past professors.

Centre of Leiden

Lots of activity around the towns preparing for Kings Day on Saturday, apparently big party day in the Netherlands. We’ll be back in Amsterdam where we’ve heard it’s huge.

A couple of cute Dutch kids travelling Dutch style

After a relaxed day in Leiden, we set off at 4pm to motor towards Aalsmeer so we could visit the flower market the next morning.

Tulip farm along the way. We haven’t seen many. Most tulips are grown in the area behind the dunes in the north of the Netherlands.

A bucolic scene along the way


Note the grey clouds in the photos - our long run of wonderful spring weather has come to an end! With the much anticipated visit to Keukenhof still to come we’re becoming a little concerned for the welfare of the tulips after the spell of warm weather and now some wind!

Tomorrow will tell.

Posted by themaggiej 13:50 Archived in Netherlands Comments (3)

Kudelstaart - Gouda - Delft

beautiful countryside & historic towns

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Amsterdam to Kudelstaart

On Sunday we boarded our barge Elodie for our 7 day Bike & Barge Tulip Tour. Not only would we be cycling through the Dutch countryside, but our notes tell us we will get the opportunity to experience everything that is typically Dutch - flower fields, historic windmills in beautiful countryside to pottery and delicious cheeses.

After some preliminary meet and greets, some safety briefings and information on the upcoming week, we all headed to the deck to watch Amsterdam slip by as we sailed out on the Amstel River. It was another glorious day and we were full of anticipation for our new travel adventure. The barge was very comfortable, the crew lovely and our fellow travelling companions seemed very nice - 2 Canadians, 6 Aussies including us and 6 from Alaska.



Meet and greet in the salon of the Elodie

Heading out of Amsterdam on Amstel River past very odd and out of character building

After about an hour’s sailing when we had cleared the built up area of Amsterdam, we left the boat for our first cycle of the tour, a 20km ride through forested parkland and small towns till we reached Kudelstaart where the Elodie was waiting for us on Nieuwe Meer (a large lake just south of the airport) where we would spend the night.


Keith getting his first beer of the trip

Lovely 3 course dinner from our chef Hans followed by coffee on the deck where we watched a beautiful sunset while guide Nina explained the activities for the next day.


Then it was back to our cabin to dream about what the next day had in store for us.


Kudelstaart to Gouda

Today we rode to Gouda, a town famous for its Gouda cheese. Another great day for cycling with temperature in the mid-20,s and light winds. Along the way we passed through small country towns, farms, windmills, lakes and verdant green countryside. The most noticeable features was the amount of channeled water everywhere. Almost all houses were surrounded by small canals.


The original plan was to go to the Aalsmeer flower markets where apparently 80% of the worlds flowers are auctioned. However because of Easter it was closed but we will hopefully go there on the way back to Amsterdam. The revised first stop was now to be a working mill pumping water into the raised canals. As our guide explained the land we were cycling through was 5 metres below sea level. Much of it was peat which had been dug up and dried for heating and this contributed to the land being so low. Even with the system of dykes and canals the water still rises by about 1 cm per day and of course when it rains it rises much further. Hence is is still necessary to have a pumping system to raise the water 5 metres so it can flow out to sea.

Nina took us to the only remaining farm where windmills are still used to pump the water. The farm is about 500 acres and needs 4 mills each raising the water in turn about 1.25 metres to successively higher canals. The mills were built in 1801 and still have many of the original components.
The mills tend to be passed down from family to family. The government subsidises their operational costs to keep them running. Milling is recognised as a profession and Millers must obtain a qualification. They are also required to live in the small mill house which is within the mill structure. To make a living the mill we visited also had a small dairy herd.

The Miller and his wife gave us a fascinating one hour briefing and tour of the mill. The Miller activated the mill by first turning it into wind by hand then unfurling the canvas on the sails to catch the wind. Then we went inside the mill to see the house and the working components of the pump.
Amazing that the technology is still relevant today although most of the land is now kept dry by use of electric powered pumping station.

Miller demonstrating putting up the sails

Turning the windmill into the breeze

Putting on the break to hold windmill in position

NAP is a sea level indicator so you can see how far below sea level this land is.

After lunch in a small village we continued on to Gouda. The route followed numerous canals which were all busy with boats of all shapes and sizes enjoying the Easter break and the beautiful weather. The final 5 Kilometers into Gouda followed a lake which had been formed by the removal of the peat.


We arrived in Gouda about 5 o'clock and boarded the Elodie to enjoy a refreshing drink on the deck followed by a magnificent dinner prepared by our chef Hans. After dinner our guide Nina took us for a walk through the old historic centre of Gouda, which is known for its cheese and its beautiful town hall.


Gouda to Delft via Rotterdam

Leaving Gouda, we firstly stopped at a cafe in town for a demonstration of the making of the Netherland’s famous sweet snack, the stroopwaffel, which was first made in Gouda. It is a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle. Simple but quite delicious! Then we departed Gouda for a beautiful ride though a rural area rich in bird life where we were on a path with canals on both sides, passing cows, sheep, swans, ducks and many other birds. Very pleasant riding for about 10km.


This lovely cycle path took us to the UNESCO listed windmill park of Kinderdijk, a picture postcard row of 19 working windmills. We enjoyed our lunch picnic style surrounded by these windmills (and lots of tourists).


After leaving the Kinderdijk, we cycled to Rotterdam, where our normally tight and highly organised procedures had their first mishap of the tour. We were catching a ferry along the river to Rotterdam and half of the group had boarded, with guide Nina on the wharf telling the tail end Charlie’s to hurry up. Suddenly the gangplank came up and the boat took off, despite Nina’s protestations of ‘I’m the guide, they don’t know where to get off”! The captain shouted from his wheelhouse, something which meant, too bad, I’m going! It was panic for a while as Nina didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers but fortunately one of the Charlie’s was able to contact his partner and after a 30 minute wait for the next ferry everyone was reunited in the end.

Rotterdam is the world’s largest port and beacause of its strategic position was heavily bombed in WW2. It has been rebuilt in modern style, with some unusual architecture. Following a wander around the central city, we rode off along the river to where the Elodie was waiting for us and motored off to Delft where we were to spend the night.

This modern, imposing building is a big market hall. Inside are lots of quality food stalls. The very expansive domed roof is decorated with lots of very colourful ceramic squares with fruits, flowers and foods. Very attractive building!


Delft is a charming small town famous for its blue and white pottery. With many canals, some lovely squares surrounded by historical buildings and a lots of cafes full of the town’s university students, it had a lively and very pleasant atmosphere.







Posted by themaggiej 12:54 Archived in Netherlands Comments (7)


watery, walkable, wonderful

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Well, here we are back in Amsterdam, a city we first visited in 1975. Although that was a fleeting visit, I remember being quite shocked at how liberal it was, with its red light district and a bohemian kind of vibe. While it seems somewhat more refined today, it is still known for its progressive attitudes. It was the first country to legalise gay marriage and euthanasia , has legalised prostitution and has a relaxed policy on the use of recreational drugs.

Some trivia about the Netherlands.
- the Netherlands means ‘low country ‘ with 25% of the country being below sea level. When we arrived at Schripol airport in Amsterdam, we were 4.5 metres below sea level. At its lowest level near Rotterdam it is 6.7 metres below sea level.
- the Dutch are the tallest people in the world (we’ve noticed this, with lots of long and lean people around)
- it still has about 1,000 working windmills
- it has the highest Museum density in the world
- there are over 35,000 km of dedicated cycle paths
- there are more bikes than people, with 17 million people and 22 million bikes

It seemed that a good percentage of those 22 million bikes were parked at the station when we arrived in Amsterdam and a good percentage of the rest of them were on the road trying to run us down as we made our way to our accommodation, a 15 minute walk from the central station. We learned very quickly that they are king of the road and don’t give way to anyone, rather just ring their bells loudly and expect you to move.


These look a lot more friendly.

This fine building dating from the 1890’s is Central Station Amsterdam

We did however, make it to our Airbnb accommodatioon and our host Judith kindly cycled up from her workplace to let us check in early which was much appreciated after our long 34 hour trip door to door.

How pleased we were to have come to the world’s most watery city and have thoroughly enjoyed our four days here. It has a distinct and exciting personality given to it by the network of canals from the 17th century which fan out from the Central Station and radiate around the city core in concentric circles. Twenty five percent of Amsterdam’s surface area consists of navigable canals, which are criss-crossed by 1,281 bridges, making it a very walkable city. And we have done just that, walking 53.8 km in four days!


As well as spending lots of time walking the city and exploring the different neighbourhoods and canal areas, we also did a 90 minute canal boat tour which gave us a great appreciation for the beautiful houses and buildings, many of them centuries old, which line the streets beside the canals.
A combination of narrow profile, fancy gables and architectural quirkiness makes the canal houses unique and interesting and an iconic feature of the city.

Called the Drunken Houses due to their lean

This quirky house, at just 1.6m wide, has the distinction of being the narrowest house in Amsterdam

Interesting rooflines, typical of Dutch architecture

A row of distinctive colourful shuttered canal houses

Princes’ Canal at twilight with the historic 1631 Westerkerk Church (seen in the distance) and Anne Frank’s House on its shores. Like most of the canals, it is lined with some of the city’s estimated 2,500 barges. Once cargo ships, they are now sought after residences and some of them appear to be quite elegant.

This canal not far from where we were staying. Rainbow flags fly proudly in many places around the city

Everywhere - canals and bikes!

One of the 1,281 bridges with its beautiful display of spring tulips

It’s also a city rich in culture and history with several significant art galleries and museums. We visited the most famous of these, the Rijksmuseum where there is currently a Rembrandt exhibition running. We visited on the afternoon of our arrival and got there too late to see the full exhibition, but not being avid gallery goers we were happy just to see Rembrandt’s Night Watch along with some of the large collection of art produced by Dutch Masters during the 17th century and to enjoy its 19th century home, the Rijksmuseum, with its stained glass windows and beautiful surrounds.


Rijksmuseum - back view

On Friday we ventured out of the city on a half day tour with guide Herman to the Zaanse Schans, an area of historic working windmills in a polder landscape about 20 minutes from Amsterdam by train. The windmills and distinctive green wooden houses were relocated there to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village with artisan workshops demonstrating wooden clog carving, and cheese and chocolate making.

The windmills at Zaanse Schans

This path on the right is a dike constructed to retain the water in the polder below. Polders are land below sea level. Dikes have been built around them to prevent flooding.

Keith chatting to the sexy guy in the chocolate shop

Cheese making display

Cheese tasting

Decorative clogs at the Clog Museum

Part of the fairytale Dutch village at Zaanse Schans

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our four days in Amsterdam at the beginning of our holiday. It has all the advantages of a big city - rich culture, historic buildings and a vibrant atmosphere - yet it is quiet and relaxed, due to a population of just 854,000, and its extensive canal system and little road traffic (but watch out for those damn bikes!) . As well as that, it’s inhabitants are very personable and it has served us up the most amazing four days of spring weather.

Yes, it’s springtime in Amsterdam.

Tomorrow we begin our barge and bike Tulip Tour, a seven day loop of the southern region of the Netherlands, which will include some of its most iconic towns such as Gouda, Leiden and Delft. Our trip notes describe the tour as ‘historic towns, picturesque villages in a rural environment abounding with water’. We’re hoping there will be the odd windmill or two, and of course, the tulips! Can’t wait to begin!

This is the route we will be taking, starting and finishing in Amsterdam.

Happy Easter to all. We hope you’re enjoying yours as much as we’re enjoying ours here in Amsterdam.

Bye for now,
Maggie & Keith

Posted by themaggiej 11:52 Archived in Netherlands Comments (8)

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