Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 4

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 4

Read about this trip from the start – here.

Amstel River Amsterdam

For the most part on this trip we saw Dutch registered boats. Our guess is about 90% of the boats on the waterways are locals. Another 9% are German owned boats And obviously the closer one gets to the German and Belgian borders the more of those boats are on the waterways. We saw very few other nationalities. Two British boats, one Swedish and one from Denmark.

Since we arrived late – and we had Internet – sort of – we caught up on comms and chores on the boat. The following morning we caught the free ferry across the Ij into Amsterdam which was heaving with humans. Hen and stag groups – or whatever the occasion – with team T-Shirts seem to be the thing in Amsterdam. I guess people come to party. We saw a good few people who over-did it on magic mushrooms, weed or strong beers and were looking more than a little worse for wear.

Free ferry across the River Ij

And that’s another thing I will never understand. Tourists don’t seem to venture past Damrak in Amsterdam. It’s groaning with people shuffling  past each other gawking at the girls in the red light district. I get that the openness about sex and drugs is a novelty. And for sure our first trip we did the
obligatory walk past the ladies in the sex area. And we visited a kinky museum. Or two.

Nowadays we skip Damrak and head straight to the outer suburbs. Food and drinks are cheaper and it’s just a whole lot nicer. If you’re not keen on a walk then catch a tram. Even better, take short day trip by train out to Alkmaar, Haarlem, Delft, Gouda or Utrecht. They also have lovely canals with cruises, Dutch architecture, a town square, markets, yummy food and all that one expects – but minus the hoards of tourists.

Abandoned umbrellas after the storm

We struggle with Internet on the waterways. For four reasons. Reason One – while there is wi-fi in some marinas, a person needs to be near the modem, which is usually in the havenkantoor (harbour office). If your boat is not moored close enough, then the signal is not strong enough. Reason Two – our boat is made of steel, wi-fi signal is not able to penetrate the boat. We usually have to sit on the outer perimeter of the deck to get some signal.

Reason Three – is the sheer number of people all trying to get signal. At Compagniehaven we speculated there were around 700 boats. Sure, not all were trying to use wi-fi, but each boat has at LEAST two people – however most boats are likely to have a family or group of friends on board. There are simply too many people all trying to get on-line. Reason Four – people use wifi gobblers. I never even knew these things existed until another boater told us about them. He uses a thing called Wifi Rogue which he bought in America. Apparently they suck up available wifi signal but I really don’t understand how they work

Eating in the dark at C Taste

We’ve been to Amsterdam a few times now and rather than pack in museums or a canal cruise, we like to go walkabout and visit places we liked before or find new places to like. Our first day in Amsterdam we wanted to do a shop-up at our favourite store – Marqt. Everything is organic and ethically sourced. They also only accept credit cards. Which is a nice change for us. Foreign owned shops such as Zara or H and and most hotels accept credits cards but Dutch owned businesses will not take credit cards. Even large chains stores like their supermarkets are not interested. They will accept a local debit card which we don’t have.

We also booked at a place called C-Taste, more on that later, where they will accept a credits card but add the bank fee onto the bill for your account. I suspect in Amsterdam there is a bit more tolerance for credit cards but not elsewhere.

View from Sixhaven marina

We ended the day at a pub in De Pijp area and had a Belgian beer while watching people going about life. It never ceases to amaze us how the mix of motor vehicles, trams, bicycles, tricycles, tandem bikes, mobility vehicles and humans all manage to go about their journeys without crashing or fighting. I get scared just crossing the road with all the activity.

Before going back to the boat we had a pita at our favourite spot Maoz. For €5 you get a white or wholewheat pita pocket, 3 falafel balls and unlimited salad and sauces. Yum. Our second day in Amsterdam we wanted to go to the Albert Cuyp market. We’ve been before and it always gets a mention in the What To Do in Amsterdam guides.

House boat in Amsterdam

Plus the guy double-banked next to our boat from Friesland was raving about it. We thought we would give it another try. It’s lots of the same stuff really. Mostly cheap clothes and fruit and veggie stalls. The prices aren’t that much better than the supermarkets but we love the novelty of shopping at produce markets. They sometimes have things you don’t often see. Like purple carrots. We had to try those.

The weather was atrocious. Freezing cold, howling gales and horizontal rain. How does this happen in the height of the summer and holiday season? There were broken umbrellas aplenty next to rubbish bins. We decided to catch the tram back to Dam and head for one of our favourite veggie places in the Jordaan area for a bite – Bolhoed. Amazing how bad weather sends people indoors. The number of people of the streets was vastly down compared to the previous day. We were also pleased not to be boating in inclement weather.

The captain having a break from the rain at Bolhoed

Since we’ve discovered Happy Cow ( we’ve visited all sorts of amazing veg friendly eateries on our travels. Bolhoed (bowler hat) have vegetarian, vegan and raw food. After a meal at Bolhoed we’d had enough of being out went back to the boat to keep warm and dry. The rain lashed down and our boat bounced for a few hours more and then just like that, the weather lifted and the sun came out. We heard the following day that the tram service was suspended due to a tree blowing over and debris on the track. That’s the Netherlands for you. Four season in one day.
This story continues – on this link.

Boating in Holland – Part 7

Boating in Holland – Part 7

Boating in Holland


Click here – to go to the start of this journey.

The following day the weather improved slightly. Since we hadn’t seen much of Haarlem we decided to stay on and do the walking tour together.

The walk is supposed to be 90 mins. We took a 30 minute lunch break and yet somehow managed to drag the walk out to 3 hours. Lunch was at a cute vintage style cafe called In Den Gevulde Broodmand Tea Salon.

We had belegde broodjies which are filled slices of bread. And coffees. Very, very nice. Our walk included historical old buildings but also streets where residents had planted lots of greenery. Our map got drenched with all the rain.

Lunch stop in Haarlem

Back at the boat we freshened up and ate supper, then walked back up to the main square to watch the Netherlands vs Argentina game in the Soccer World Cup quarter finals. I really, really wanted Holland to win. I so badly wanted to be part of the winning celebrations. The Dutch sure know how to party. We had been following the games and invested so much interest in this tournament.

The game was yet another goal-less draw. And yet another round of play either way. Again no result. At penalty shoot out the Dutch goalie let in two balls. That was it for the Dutch team! I wanted to cry. Everyone filed out of the pub and walked silently. I saw people crying. It was so, so sad.

The weather had now turned hot. Amazing how we can be in winter woolies one day, and dying of heat the next. Our destination was Amsterdam. A busy port and a bustling city. With two extra folk on board I could relax a bit. It’s nice to

Six Haven Amsterdam

have other people enjoy this experience with us. We see things through their eyes and share what we have learned about the Netherlands. We went via Noorszee Kanal through Spaarndam Sluis. Lots of big barges and marine traffic on this route.

Amsterdam has a couple of marinas but the one everyone mentioned was Six Haven. So we went there. It’s right opposite Amsterdam Centraal Station. Crossing over the channel with so much big boat activity was a bit nerve wracking but we have a great captain. Six Haven has box berths. A

Box style berths

really tight squeeze. The extra hands on deck were most welcome. Access on and off the boat was over bow – which requires some dexterity. After lunch we had a relaxing afternoon. Some of us slept off the late night before.

We decided to go into Amsterdam and have a drink in Damrak. We donned our glad rags and took the free ferry across. We’ve seen so much of The Netherlands now that we can make comparisons. Damrak is at the very heart of Amsterdam’s tourist area. It’s heaving with humans and to be honest, not a true reflection of how people live in The Netherlands.

If only visitors knew that a mere 20 minutes from where they are, it’s much quieter, friendlier and way more authentic. My advice

Sunset on the River Ij Amsterdam

after all this time in Holland is get out of Amsterdam and go to Haarlem, Edam, Gouda or Delft. Public transport in Holland is excellent.

After our drinks we stopped at the supermarket – Albert Heijn – and bought items to make a BBQ (or braai as South Africans call it). Back on the boat we got the BBQ fired up and had a very late meal. And wine.

We left all the portholes and hatches open to allow cool air to flow in as it was hot – but also humid. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with water falling on my face. A massive thunderstorm had come up and rain was pouring in via the hatch above our bed. My other

Broek aan de Waterland

half scrambled to close all the porthole windows and the hatches in the dark. He came back inside dripping wet. Bold flashes of lightning and thunder ensued and then as quickly as it started, it was over.

Edam was our next port of call. The amenities at Six Haven were OK. We all spruced up, got ourselves dressed and ready to make an early start. Breakfast was an en-route affair. We decided to travel along the scenic inland route to Edam as opposed to going via the Markemeer. Our boat passed through Broek aan de Waterland

Broek aan de Waterland

where I could easily live. It’s a narrow waterway with lilies and loads of boho homes.

A person has to be wide awake and know to look out for wire operated ferries. The last thing a person wants is to get tangled in the personal wire operated boats. We expected the route to Monnickendam would narrow and shallow. But not THAT shallow. At times the echo sounder showed NO space beneath us. We heard the boat touch the bottom of the canal a good few times. We also lost time as we had to wait for dredging vessels to move so we could pass them.

We got to Grafelijkheid Sluis. Have I mentioned

All navigation gear and awnings down

my partner is a planner de luxe? He had planned this trip – months in advance. The mandatory Dutch charts showed the lock first and THEN the bridge at 3.9m. Our boat is 4.8m at full height. Minus the radar arch we get to 3.65 which should have been fine.

What we discovered as we got there is the bridge is right over the lock. And the lock goes up! I guess I thought a lock keeper would be around to manage the situation. Or even check all was OK before going ahead. But no.

The lock closed behind us. The water level started rising. Right under the bridge! We only had 30cm to spare. Our boat was about to get crushed. The awnings had to be dropped in seconds.

Connecting to shore power in Haarlem

Oh, and we had to also hold onto the ropes to stop the boat crashing as the water rushed into the lock. Mega stress! But we got it right.

Thank God we had extra people on board helping. I could not have done it alone with Patrick.

Read my tips for aspirant boaters – on this link.

For more on other places we have visited, go to the top of this page and open – My Holidays and Trips.

I will be back soon.


Holland – Part Three

Holland – Part Three

Canal in Amsterdam
Cannabis information centre

After our boating trip we spent a long weekend in Amsterdam. There are gazillions of must-sees and you can’t possibly see them all. We narrowed it down to the things that make Holland unique.

Our pick was a canal cruise, the Cannabis College and the Marijuana Museum.

We also did the Sex Museum and the Erotic Museum. We’re not likely to see museums like that anywhere else in the world so we decided to see them while we were in Amsterdam.

Were they all that? It was interesting to learn just how many uses cannabis has, apart from getting stoned, and they showed us some of the different ways it can be taken. Same with the sex museums. People are turned on by really strange stuff and you get to see it. Not for the prudish. You are warned before you go into a room where there is graphic and disturbing material. But they mainly have exibits of erotica going back eons and from all civilisations.

What it is really wierd though, is to walk the streets and smell the aroma of weed coming from the various coffee shops. My head knows that it’s an illegal substance, so it’s quite a head twist watching people smoking in public without fear of breaking the law. The distinct smell of cannabis pervades the city.

Add that to the constant clanging of the trams moving swiftly past and you could close your eyes and know you are in Amsterdam.

The Grasshopper Coffee Shop

We walked about and took in as many of the recommended sights and areas.

Cheese tasting and shop

We also enjoyed just being in the city and strolling the streets observing the goings on. If we passed a cheese tasting shop, then we would pop in, or have a coffee at a cafe and watch the world go by. Our obsevations were that the biggest customers of the coffee shops and the ladies in the red light district are NOT Dutch.

We found markets all over Holland. They seem to be in different towns on different days. The food stalls allow tastings and put out morsels for you to try. Be warned – you will end up buying – and eating – a lot of food. We consumed our body weight in cheeses, cookies and Belgian beers.

Dutch frites or a Maoz falafel for lunch???

My favourites were Speculaas cookies and Dutch apple pie. The beers are served in brandy style glasses with the name of the beer on the glass at local watering holes. Our favourite beers were Leffe and Grimsberg. These two have a sweeter, almost nutty flavour and aren’t fizzy like most lagers. One warning – they pack nearly double the alcohol content of other beers.

We tried a cheese and apple pancake at one of the pancake bars. Not a combo I would have thought of, I have to say, but nice all the same. Dutch liquorice is highly addictive. I managed to wolf down a half kilo bag in two days. It comes sweet, mint, honey or salty. I got a mixed variety bag and I can report – they are all good.

Since I don’t eat meat, the best value for money, and the best food for vegetarians, came from Maoz. They let you go back to the salad bar as much as you want to top up.

Tourism office or VVV

We had fun looking out for quirky boat names and even quirkier cyclists. There really, really are a lot of bicycles in Holland. I was surprised to learn they have right of way on roads. They also don’t wear helmets. Kids grow up riding bicycles so riding a bicycle is like breathing to the Dutch.

They manage to do all sorts of things whilst cycling. Like; chat on a phone, apply lipstick, carry babies on their backs, hold an umbrella. Pedalling in the highest of heels doesn’t seem to present a problem.

You have to keep your wits about you crossing a road as bicycles hurtle past in all directions. Amsterdam is not a pedestrian friendly city.

The Dutch tourism offices do not have an “i” sign, but rather a triangle shaped VVV board. It stands for Voor Vremdelingen Verkeer and is pronounced “fear, fear, fear”. The VVV offices are not always free standing. They pop up in museums and even in a sports shop in one town.

The ubiquitous trams

Many shops close on Mondays for some reason in Holland. Even in Amsterdam. Once we realised this we made sure we did our visits and shopping between Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Here are a couple of handy links for visiting Holland –

Holland Tourism
Visit Holland
Timeout Amsterdam
Lonely Planet Amsterdam

View fro Ibis Hotel Stopera

For accommodation we used Housetrip and bagged ourselves an fully furnished apartment right in the central city area. You could also try Wimdu or Airbnb.

The wonderful thing about the open, warm Dutch personalities is you can ask them for directions without fear of offending them. You are likely to be rewarded with enthusiatic help and friendly conversation.

It’s a great city and a lot more than just sex and drugs. Just rememmber to pack a rain proof jacket. It rained every day we were in Holland. Especially in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, it must have rained ten times a day.

Click here to go to Holland Part 1.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Holland – Part Two

Holland – Part Two

A Canal in Holland

I am going to dispense a little bit of advice to wannabe boaters. Not that I am an expert, but I have done a few boat trips now.

1. One week is never enough. You hardly get going, and before you know it, you have to return the boat. You also lose a day as you don’t get seven full days and nights. A fortnight is best.

2. Most canals boat holidays don’t require boating experience but it does help. Manoeuvring a boat in tides and wind is not easily done. For a sailing holiday, consider doing a boating course. You can do a 6 – 8 week competent crew course which will give you the basics.

Mooring in Steenwijk

3. For the person handling the boat, you need to know that a boat doesn’t drive like a car. Rather go slowly and get a feel for the wind and the currents and work with them to move the boat. We have seen people with no clue heading off full throttle and bashing boats. Less is more with a boat.

4. Rather plan a shorter distance and enjoy the trip than travel further and have to travel at speed to return the boat in time.

5. Try to travel in a loop, rather than there-and-back, to vary the scenery.

6. You need to be aware that boating usually is done in the countryside and you can’t always pop into a 24 hour superstore or pharmacy on a whim.

Toll bridge on the canal

7. Boats are compact. Space is limited. Pack as little as you can get away with.

8. The perception that boating is elegant and luxurious is a complete myth. You will have much less water than you are used to. You will bump your head and shins moving about in the cabin. Don’t even think about wearing heels.

9. Boat loos take some getting used to. They don’t have regular flush systems.

10. Pack working gloves to handle ropes. Garden gloves will do. Use heavy duty hand cream every night to soothe dry chapped hands. Also pack a sunhat and maximum factor sun cream.

Mooring in Urk

We self-catered on our hire boat which brought costs down. Most towns had a supermarket and we would buy their own-brand foods which were even cheaper than our own-brand foods back home.

If we were lucky to find one, we would shop at a LIDL or an ALDI. The prices at ALDI are excellent. A 750 ml bottle of French red wine was €2.29; a 120gr tub of walnuts was €1.79; sliced pumpernickel bread 500gr was €0.35 and 125gr punnet of raspberries cost €1.79.

Mooring in Zwolle

Click here to go to Holland Part 3.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Holiday in Holland in 2011

Station Centraal Amsterdam

On the KLM airplane to Holland, the first thing I noticed was how jovial the Dutch passengers were. The people in the row in front were leaning over their seats, chatting to the people next to me and laughing. A lot. I remembered the exuberance of the Dutch supporters during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Cape Town turned bright orange during the Holland games. A massive party, including an orange double-decker bus, had travelled down to South Africa to follow their team. The Dutch are without doubt, a happy, hearty, friendly nation.

One of the many colourful cyclists

My other half and I arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. From there, it was a 2 minute walk to the train station next door where we took the train to Amsterdam Centraal. And from there, you can get anywhere. The Dutch all speak English so we had no problem buying tickets. The fare was €4.20 each from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Our first night was spent at Ibis Hotel in Stopera which was a 30 minute walk away. We could have taken a bus but after a day of sitting on planes and buses we were happy to walk. The hotel is fairly central and our room looked out onto a canal. The Ibis/Accor group are often our hotel of choice as they are well priced and it’s easy to book in advance. Breakfast is optional with Ibis hotels. Ibis Hotel.

Bicycle beer bar

Internet is usually free in the lobby. If you can get a chance to use it. Check prices before hook up to the net in your room. You may be in for a shock.
IBIS tend to do a local style breakfast so it varies from hotel to hotel. A Dutch breakfast would have been €15.00 each. We decided to take to the streets and find our own breakfast. The receptionist guided us to a quaint spot called Bagel and Beans where we each had a soy milk chai latte and a goat cheese with chives omelet which came to €16 in total.

Abandoned bicycle

This was a boating holiday for the most part. My other half is a master mariner and an avid boater. He had pre-booked a charter boat from a place called – Yacht Charters Urk. Although we have a good few boating holidays under our belts, this one was special. This boat was a Dutch steel motor cruiser. My other half has designs on one for us one day. Two things struck me about our boating time in The Netherlands. Firstly, how different the countryside is from previous boating holidays in Europe. The Dutch canals are wide, busy, commercial and a lot more modern for the most part. Big working barges barrel along the canals. This is in contrast to the narrow canals and olde worlde scenery we encountered in the UK and France. There, one only encounters leisure boats.

Family day out on a bicycle

The thing that my brain had a hard time dealing with is the logistics of a country that lies 5 metres below sea level. Everything works the wrong way around. Usually a boat “locks up” when one goes inland. In Holland, one “locks down”. Locks are the waterway equivalent of an elevator or stairs. Boats can’t go up and down slopes so they move through locks to go up or down in stages. Normally water runs toward the sea. But in Holland, well it’s different. For more on locks, boating and waterways visit Waterway Wanderer.

Bicycle parking bay in Gronigen

The next day we took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Lelystadt to be met by the charter company rep. The trip was 45 minutes and give or take 45 kilometres. The train ticket cost €9.00 each. A big plus with doing a charter boat holiday is your accommodation and your transport are one cost. This particular charter cost €1250.00 per week.

Click here to go to Holland Part 2.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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