Top of Amsterdam Bike Barge Tour (also known as the Headwind Tour)
This is our third bike-barge charter with Cycletours. The first was aboard the Wending and had us biking from Amsterdam to Bruge. The second was aboard the Sailing Home and had us biking from Cologne to Amsterdam. This one is aboard the Zwaan and is called the Top of Amsterdam tour. We would begin in Amsterdam, make our way by bicycle and barge to the island of Texel and then back to Amsterdam.
Planning for this trip began in 2019 BC (Before COVID) and was rescheduled 3 times due to COVID travel restrictions. The cast of characters changed multiple times during the COVID years as some dropped out and others signed up. People who felt capable of riding a regular bike in 2019 elected to upgrade to an eBike in 2022. The group rounded out to thirteen which filled every cabin on the barge.
BJ and Tony elected to actually book flights to Amsterdam rather than travel Non-Rev/Standby since this trip had been so long in the planning. With a confirmed seat, we were able to schedule our arrival on the day we were to board the barge, something we would never have done if we were standing by. We enjoyed Delta One service, watched a movie and got a little sleep, landing in Amsterdam at 5:00AM on Saturday.
The rest of the gang had arrived a day or more ahead of us. Sandy, Polly and Kevin stood by for a flight to Frankfurt and made their way to Amsterdam by Car, stopping in Heidelburg along the way.
*Cycle & walking measurements on this post are taken from BJ's timeline on Google Maps and may not completely agree with other folks' GPS measurements.
We took the train from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal station and walked a half mile to the Oosterdok where the barge was parked. Walking down the dock with a rolling suitcase, we woke Anita, the guide from last weeks tour and she allowed us to leave our bags on the boat. We made our way back to the Starbucks at the Doubletree Hotel and waited for them to open at 7AM. Beth and Mark joined us for coffee and told us about their time in Amsterdam. They had taken a food tour that sounded fabulous. Chick and Rebecca stopped by on their way to the windmill tour they had booked.
Tony stayed at the Starbucks while BJ walked around Amsterdam taking in the sights. She found Joyce and Mark having breakfast at De Koffieschenkerij, a coffee shop in an old church.
We relaxed in Joyce and Mark's room at the Hendrick's Hotel for a bit before heading over to the Public Library for lunch. We had learned on a previous trip that the cafeteria atop the library is a great place to see Amsterdam from on high! Beth and Joyce and the two Marks joined us for lunch. We had a great view of the town.
We could even see our barge waiting for us at the dock.
We got to the barge around 3 and got our cabin assignments from Dita, our hostess for the trip. BJ and Tony had Cabin 5, a comfortable double bed end cabin. Most of the other cabins had twin beds, except for Kevin's cabin which was at the nose of the barge and accessible by very steep steps. We jokingly referred to it as the Love Nest!
After we got settled, our guide, Sietse, took us on an introductory ride around Amsterdam which included a ferry ride and a number of bridge and intersection crossings. Tony took the position as "Sweeper" or "Rear Admiral" on all of the rides. He had brought a bright yellow shirt rather than wearing the vest Sietse had for him. The shirt he had looks identical to one the Dutch police wear!
We made it back in plenty of time for dinner on the barge! Tonights selection from Chef Rick was Ratatouille with tomato olive salad and hummus followed by a warm meltie chocolate cake topped with strawberries.
After dinner, Tony and BJ went straight to bed after having been awake for 32 hours (minus the short nap on the plane), it was time!
Sunday (Cycled 34.4 miles, walked 1 mile)*
Breakfast was served at 8AM. In addition to breakfast foods, there were sandwich fixings and fruit so that we could prepare our lunch for the bike ride. We were given a lunch container to keep for the week.
Every morning a basket of warm bread and butter was served. Sunday was Mother's Day so our bread was heart shaped for the occasion! Charlie and Nadine remembered to get Joyce a card and some Dutch chocolate.
After breakfast, we prepared for our bike ride. Some of us had brought mirrors, handle bar bags and GPSes that needed to be mounted on our bikes. We were each issued a panier to mount on our bike for anything we wanted to bring with us on the ride.
We left Oosterdok and took a short ferry ride across the IJhaven waterway.
Once on the other side, we rode (in a headwind) Northeast toward Nieuwendam and then turned more North, passing thru Zunderdorp.
We picked up a nice paved bike path where we didn't have to contend with auto traffic. (The headwind continued.)
We took a break at a lovely spot where Sietse showed us the measurement indicating how far below sea level we were.
We stopped in the lovely little town of Monnickendam for a "coffee" break. To this group, "coffee" usually means beer or wine, unless you are Beth who was on the self-guided "Apple Pie Tour".
About a mile later, we came to the Irene Hoeve Farm which advertised "Cheese + Clogs" on the roof.
The farm is run by a sister and a brother. First, the sister showed us how cheese is made.
Then we were escorted into the section where the brother demonstrated how the the clogs are made. He was a real showman, demonstrating not only how the clogs are made, but how fashionable and useful they are. He even slid across the floor at great speed. One of his selling points was that walking in clogs would firm up your butt!
A couple of people bought clogs while the rest of us took in the huge array of types and sizes available.
Next was the tasting room where we were allowed to sample the cheeses along with some local wine.
Outside, we had fun posing with the giant clog and looking at the animals. There was a peacock, some other fowl, some giant bunnies and a fake milk cow.
We cycled (in a headwind) about 5 more miles alongside the Markermeer lake, stopping along the way for a photo op.
Volendam was our lunchtime stop. Little did we know what was going on in Volendam! FC Volendam secured the promotion to Eredivisie by winning against FC Den Bosch and was having a celebration of epic proportions! Crowds swarmed, beer flowed, orange smoke filled the streets!
We found a quiet spot along the water where we could have our lunch and watch the festivities.
We would have loved to stay and celebrated with them, but we had to cycle on to meet the barge. 3 miles later, we made a stop in Edam to see Sint Nicolaaskerk.
Fourteen more miles of cycling (in a headwind) took us past beautiful scenery.
We were very happy to make it to the harbour in Hoorn and find the Zwaan waiting for us!
Near the boat, we found the Schippershuis, a lovely spot near the Hoofdtoren to enjoy a cup of "coffee" and congratulate ourselves on the long ride (in a headwind).
Dita set a beautiful table for dinner and Chef Rick prepared a hearty meal for some hungry cyclists! Appetizers and desserts were served individually, the rest was family style. The butter cake for dessert was the biggest hit of the meal!
After dinner,Sietse took us on a walk around town, giving us a little history of the area.
The harbor was beautiful at night!
Monday (Cycled 18.8 miles, walked .7 miles)*
Breakfast and lunch fixing took place at 8AM. Chick was always concerned that there wouldn't be enough mayonaise for his sandwich. BJ discovered adding avocado to her sandwich was a real treat!
It was a bright sunny morning in Hoorn as we got ready for our ride. As we cycled out of town, the barge left the dock headed for our next destination.
We cycled (in a headwind) alongside the Hoornsche Hop lake to the Poldergemaal Schellinkhout Windmill pumping station. After WW II, this pumping station was taken out of service and replaced with an electric one.
While we were at the Poldergemaal Schellinkhout, we looked out and saw the Zwaan going by on its way to our next destination.
Not far from the windmill, we spotted a beautiful field of tulips in the distance.
We took lots of pictures! Everyone wanted to pose with the beautiful backdrop!
There were people walking through the fields looking for tulips of the wrong color. The tulip bulbs would be sold and they were making sure all would be the correct color once they cut the blooms off and harvested them for sale.
Sietse had planned a stop at a coffee shop but when we got there, we discovered that it had closed during the COVID years, so we rode on. We passed a thrift shop called De Rommelboet and decided to stop in. De Rommelboet translates to "The Fine Mess". It was a fun little barn full of "treasures" if you subscribe to the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
We stopped at a little bakery called 't Broodhuys in Hem.
The house next door had a monkey puzzle tree which many of us had never seen before.
We stopped to see De Overhaal boat elevator in Broekerhaven. It lifts boats from the lake and transfers them into the inland canals. You can see the difference in height between the Markermeer and the canals.
We rode on to Enkhuizen where the barge was docked and had our lunch on the deck.
Several of the group spent the afternoon at the Zuiderzeemuseum, an open air museum with historic buildings and exhibitions. The rest of us decided to explore Enkhuizen and take a "coffee break". We found a grocery store where we picked up some wine to have on the barge. The barge has a beer/wine bar but will allow guests to bring their own with a corkage fee.
We enjoyed a beer at 't Kleine Cafe and saw a dog that looked just like our Lucy!
On our way back to the barge, we ran into Beth and Mark at 't Ankertje so we joined them for a bit.
Dita taught a yoga class to some of the gang on the lawn of the Drommedaris, the beautiful city gate, built around 1540.
Dinner was, again, 3 courses. A seafood appetizer with mussels, shrimp and smoked salmon followed by a vegetarian casserole and salad with rhubarb compote for dessert.
Tuesday (Cycled 18.5 miles, sailed 33.6 miles)*
We awoke to find people swimming by our barge pulling flotation devices behind them.
It was a bit chilly and threatening rain so we donned our rain gear for the day's ride.
It was a beautiful ride as we headed North beside the IJsselmeer lake.
Once again, our Coffee Break destination was closed so we wound up at the Andijk Marina where you could get coffee from a machine. They had clean restrooms and a comfortable place to sit so we were happy.
We were thrilled to find another field of tulips because we were a bit after-season.
We stopped in Hoorn to see the train museum.
We had a "coffee break" at Locals Grand Cafe in Medemblik. Rebecca and Chick's Debit card had stopped working so I offered them mine so they could get some cash. Rebecca forgot my pin number on her way to the ATM so she shouted across the square, "What is your PIN number?" We got a big laugh out of that since we really shouldn't be shouting pin numbers. We used that line for the rest of the trip.
The barge was waiting for us at Oosterhaven in Medemblik to take us to our Northern most destination of Texel.
After loading all of the bicycles up, we spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying scenery.
We went through several locks. Dita deftly handled the ropes and signaled the captain to get us safely through the locks.
We busied ourselves playing cards during the 7 hours it took us to sail to Texel.
When we got to Texel, our friends Dan and Tel from Fernandina Beach were there to greet us. They got some great pictures of the Zwaan as it sailed into port.
Dinner on the boat was mushroom soup followed by pork roast, roasted potatos, mushy beans and salad. Dessert was chocolate mousse with fresh berries.
There were lots of clean plates and happy faces at the table!
Wednesday (Cycled 16.5 miles, walked .2 miles)*
We had breakfast with the rest of the group and then sent them off on their daily ride with Sietse. Chick, Rebecca, Tony and BJ would ride instead with our friends Tel and Dan.
We had no sooner left the barge than Dan's chain broke! Dan and Tel went off to get their car so they could find a bike store. The rest of us set out for the 5.2 mile ride (in a headwind) to Den Burg to find a place for a "coffee break". We found a great spot, Mans Gastro Pub in the center of Den Burg.
Chick went in to use the restroom and came back to the table dejected. He said he had been completely humiliated because he couldn't reach the urinal. Tony then admitted that he couldn't either but he wasn't going to tell anyone. We had a big laugh over this. People are very tall in Holland!
Tel and Dan dropped Dan's bike at the repair shop and found us at the pub. We tried the local beer and some bitterballen (think breaded fried balls of gravy).
Dan's bike was ready, so we set out for the coast (actually without a headwind for a change). 3 miles later, at the intersection of Waal en Burgerdijk bike path and Pijpersdijk bike path near Overtoomswaal lake, Tony's bike had a flat tire. Dan had a patch kit, so Dan, Tony and Chick started working on the repair.
They soon discovered that Dan's glue had dried up so we flagged down another cyclist to ask for help.
Problem solved (or so we thought). No sooner had the man left us than Tony's tire went flat again. We sent a text message to Sietse but he was at the other end of the island with the rest of the group so we decided to send Dan on his bike back to Den Burg to get the car so we could take the bike to be repaired. We waited... and waited... and waited...
Surprisingly, Sietse made it to us on his bike before Dan got back with the car.
By the time Sietse got the tire patched, Dan had arrived. He and Tel decided to leave us to the rest of our bike ride. We would see them again in July when they got back to Fernandina Beach.
Sietse wanted to continue our ride to the coast but we were ready to get back to the boat. Sietse said it would be a more pleasant ride toward the coast without a headwind so he led us off in that direction. When we got to De Koog (1.5 miles later), we convinced him to stop for a "coffee break" at Oranjerie 't Vogelhuis and then turn back for the boat.
After our "coffee break" when we got back to our bikes, Tony's tire was flat again. Sietse pumped it back up and we rode away. 2 km later, the tire was flat again. Sietse ended up pumping the tire up every 2 km for the entire 7 mile (11km) ride (in a headwind) back to the boat. Sietse would pump and then we would ride as fast as we could, hoping to make it as far as possible before the tire went flat again. By the time we got back to the boat, we were exhausted and ready for a shower!
Dita taught a napkin folding class before dinner. We made roses!
Chef Rick had once again, prepared a wonderful meal for us! We had Asparagus Soup, Salad, and Fish & Chips with a variety of sauces.
Dessert was an apple tart puff pastry. Chick started spreading what he thought was whipped cream over the pastry. Someone said, "This is sour cream." Without stopping the spreading motion, Chick began scraping off the topping. We laughed and laughed. The rest of us thought the sour cream was really good with the pastry!
After dinner, we played Left Right Center. Everyone started with 3 One Euro Coins (except for Joyce who mis-remembered from a previous trip that we played with quarters and had brought enough quarters for everyone to have three - we picked on her a little about this). After the dice went around the table a number of times, passing coins to the left or right or placing them in the center, Polly ended up being the last player with a coin and won the pot.
Mark suggested we play Indian Poker next. This resulted in a lot of laughter as Rebecca pitted her 6 against Kevin's Ace.
Thursday (Cycled 16.6 miles, sailed 18.7 miles)*
Captain Ilja began sailing at 6:30AM while most of us were still asleep. He needed to get to one of the bridges by 9AM because it only opens twice a day, at 9AM and 6PM.
We had breakfast while we were underway.
After breakfast, with nothing else to do and BJ's oldies playing on the speakers, there was time for some dancing!
Once it warmed up a bit, we went up on deck to enjoy the sights. We passed another field of tulips.
We arrived in Sint Maartenvlotburg at 10:30 AM and offloaded the bikes.
We cycled to the coast and rode (in a headwind) 7 miles alongside the ocean.
We stopped for a "coffee break" at the Struin restaurant in Camperdluin Strandpaviljoen.
After "coffee", we headed back inland through a wooded area hoping the woods would help block the headwind (not so). It was a beautiful peaceful ride (except for the headwind).
We found a hillside that helped block the wind a bit and sat down to have lunch and rest a bit.
Just outside of Bergen, we came across an artificial ski slope where they do tubing.
We came into the town of Bergen near the Ruinekerk, a church that was looted and burned down by beggars in 1574 during the Eighty Years' War. The front part of the church had been restored.
We only had a few minutes in town. Some of us browsed in the shops around the church while others took a "coffee break".
On the way out of town, Sietse wanted to show us two houses called De Ark and De Bark next to each other. I missed the significance of this stop.
We cycled another 5 miles (in a headwind) to Alkmaar where the barge was parked. Several of the group walked into town but Tony and BJ thought the bench on the deck of the Zwaan looked like a wonderful place to spend the afternoon people watching and having "coffee". As folks drifted back from town, they joined us in the sunshine on the deck.
Sandy, Polly and Kevin took a boat tour around the area. They didn't realize when they signed up for the "Duck Tour". They had to duck (and I mean REALLY duck) under 22 bridges during the tour!
Dita did a Tarot card reading for Rebecca before dinner.
Chef Rick pleased us once again with a delectable dinner, beginning with parma ham and ending with creme brulee.
After dinner we got to spend a little time talking with Captain Ilja. We were interested to learn how he started the company Cycletours and refurbished the Zwaan. He is a very interesting man with his fingers in many pots. His next venture is a campground that he has purchased and plans to refurbish the cabins.
Sadly this would be our last day to cycle. We started by sailing to Zaandam past windmills and through drawbridges.
We had breakfast while we were sailing. It was a special breakfast of tiny pancakes since it was our last day.
After breakfast, we did some ciphering to calculate our bar bills for the week!
The barge dropped us off in Zaandam to start our final ride.
We got to see one of those drawbridges from the street side.
We stopped to see the statue of Czar Peter the Great who had come to Holland to learn ship building.
The next stop on our tour, was the Monets Zaanse huis which had been depicted in Monet's painting "La Maison Bleue". Only one blue wall remains.
We stopped by the Czaar Peterhuisje where Tsar Peter I of Russia resided in 1697 during his Grand Embassy.
We passed this hotel that is built to look like a bunch of Dutch houses stacked atop each other.
Another ferry ride took us across the Noordzeekanaal.
We cycled along the Zijkanaal C toward Woerdersluis where we found the Hans Brinker monument. The statue depicts the boy who saved Haarlem by putting his finger in a hole in the dike.
Our "coffee break" was in Sandpoort at La Mia restaurant. We parked our bikes in the alley beside the restaurant and got scolded by the residents but they eventually gave permission for us to park there for a short time.
Beth, still on her Apple Pie tour, sat at the restaurant next to us with her apple pie and reached across to La Mia for her drink.
Just past our "coffee break" stop, we came to Jos Kors Ambachtelijk Molenaar, an active windmill producing stone ground flour. They actually let us climb up inside the windmill and witness the power of the wind! It was the highlight of the trip for many of us.
We had our lunch on the lawn of De Zandhaas, watching the windmill blades.
We cycled another 4 miles (in a headwind) to Haarlem where we saw the City Hall and Grote Kerk.
We passed by the Corrie Ten Boomhuis where the Ten Booms helped many Jewish people escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust in World War II by hiding them in their home. A map and plaque on the side of the house shows the many places Corrie Ten Boom traveled spreading the message of peace.
The remaining 13 miles of the ride was along Amsterdamsevaart, a very busy street with many intersections. This least pleasant part of the trip took us past Centraal Station and back to the Zwaan at Oosterdok where we had begun our trip 6 days before. We were glad to be back to the boat but sad that our trip was almost over.
Back on the barge, BJ was the disc jockey again, playing, singing and dancing to music from the 70's!
BJ and Joyce demonstrated the positions they remembered from their ballet classes together when they were 6.
Joyce helped Dita fold the napkins into Swans for our farewell dinner.
We declared it formal night and everyone put on their most formal attire. For some of us, this just meant a clean t-shirt!
Chef Rick described the night's menu. A filled puff pastry appetizer followed by pork medallions in garlic sauce, green beans with bacon and roasted potatoes. Tira Misu for dessert!
After dinner, the crew put on something of a farewell show, playing a horn, pot lids, bells and a wine bottle.
Next came the award presentation. Tony was declared the most valuable team member. His contribution as "Sweeper" or "Rear Admiral" earned him the coveted Zwaan medal.
After the awards, we went out to get a selfie of everyone in front of the Zwaan. What a great bunch of people!
Even though Sandy and Kevin had an early morning flight, they still stayed up to play Farkle and 99 with the gang until after midnight. Charlie and Sietse reviewed the trip while we played.
Saturday (Cycled 0 miles :( )
After our final breakfast, we gathered on the dock to say our goodbyes. Sandy and Kevin had left before breakfast. Joyce, Mark, Charlie and Nadine would be staying a few more days in Amsterdam. Polly was heading for Great Britain and Scottland. Beth and Mark were headed back to Atlanta. BJ, Tony, Chick and Rebecca were headed for Italy.
Beth, Mark, Chick, Rebecca, BJ and Tony boarded the train at Centraal Station headed for Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
A few more notes on this trip:
We thought this was the best barge we have chartered. The food was definitely better. Dita was the most valuable crew member. She played many roles: hostess, first mate, entertainer, teacher, server, maid... too many to name. Here are some examples of the special touches she added.
We would definitely do another CycleTours Charter and we would definitely travel with these people again.
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