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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesPEDAL WITH METTLE: HOLLAND BY BIKE AND BARGE

PEDAL WITH METTLE: HOLLAND BY BIKE AND BARGE

Dec. 26, 2001 – I have the greatest respect for the Dutch. My paternal grandmother was of Dutch descent. The original American vanScoik was Cornelis Aertsen Van Schaick, who crossed the Atlantic from Woerden in the Netherlands in the early 1600s to live in New Amsterdam, later to be called New York, in the New Netherlands.
My grandmother, who lived to be over 100, was the most stubborn person I have ever met. In 1979 she stopped living because her friends and their children had died and her own relatives didn't travel to Kansas often enough to see her. I had always wanted to visit the country that produced people with such indomitable genes. Last summer, bicycling and barging proved to be a wonderful way to do so.
Our biking trip began in Amsterdam, right across the street from the Central Train Station. We arrived early, parked our bags on the good barge Zeeland and walked into the sea of people known as Old Amsterdam.
One of the first things we did was go shopping for warmer clothing, as Holland proved to be downright chilly. Clothing is one of Amsterdam's bargains, and we found very good turtleneck knits that were excellent for layering — two for U.S. $9. We had a healthful bowl of soup at a "soup kitchen" serving a dozen varieties along with a couple of kinds of bread.
And to answer one of the inevitable questions: Yes, there are females on display in the windows of buildings in on part of town. It is a section unto itself, and we didn’t choose to spend time there. Prostitution is legal and highly controlled by the government. Holland has just legalized brothels, and we saw at least one in each of the cities and larger villages we visited. They were not obtrusive, however; you had to look for them.
Old Amsterdam appeared to have anything one would possibly want -– but far too many people for my taste.
Returning to the boat, we met our 14 fellow passengers (Dutch, German, American, South African and Canadian), four crew members and biking guide. The crew cast off, and we were away through the harbor and into the Amsterdam/Rijn Canal to Vreeswijk, just south of Utrecht.
We were supposed to take an evening bike ride to test our skills, but it was raining cats and dogs; so, instead, we spent the evening getting to know each other and the barge bar.
(The only really sour note of the trip was the admonition to purchase alcoholic beverages on board and not bring one’s own into the salon. While the boat beer and spirits were adequate, the spirits were expensive, and the wine was down right not good. Bottom line: We didn't drink openly, and the Americans smuggled on some good stuff.)
Gray skies not all that gloomy
Our first day of cycling, a Monday, began with a beautiful blue sky while we ate breakfast and packed our lunches. It quickly changing to overcast, however, when we off-loaded our bicycles. This became the norm.
Our first ride was atop a dike for the River Lek. The countryside was relatively open with lots of cows and horses. Arriving in Leerdam, we stopped for lunch by the river, and some members of the group toured the glassworks there. The glass museum was a wonder to view, but no one wanted to chance carrying such breakable art home as a souvenir. No sooner had we began our afternoon ride than the heavens opened and we all pulled out our rain gear. Since we had a date with the barge, we didn't have the option of pulling into a pub to wait out the rain but had to keep peddling.
After a while, we realized our rain gear really did work and we really were having a good time. From then on, the weather was not a factor in our excursions. In fact, after one really nice sunny period we began to relish overcast skies with a bit of a breeze. Our harbor for the night was the fortified town of Gorinchem. Here I was able to find my first superette and acquire my precious buttermilk (Karne Meik). After dinner, our guide took us for a walk around town, pointing out the places of interest. Mileage: 30.
Monday is Market Day in Gorinchem, and we spent an hour or so checking out the extensive array of goods. My wife bought a gel bike saddle cover, which stood her in good stead during the week's ride and later in Denmark. I purchased fresh cherries and a lovely hunk of cheese. Leaving the market, we met at the public dock and took a ferry across the river (with our bikes). After another short ride, we came to a large dinghy capable of taking six to seven bikes and riders at a time across to Loevestein Castle. We had to hand our bikes from the dock to the boatman, who was in excellent physical condition from lifting bicycles all day.
The castle is privately owned, which proved to be a blessing in several senses. For one, Monday is a holiday for public facilities, and another castle, owned by the government, that we visited in the afternoon was closed. But the owners opened the private property for us and gave us a private tour. The castle opened to the general public as we pedaled off to our next destination.
The family lived in the grand manor house on the castle grounds and kept the castle up in order to make money from tours. Although the furnishings were sparse, most of the rooms were original parts of the structure. A really nice thing about the tour was our freedom to nose around, ask questions and get a good understanding of what it must have been like to live in a castle. The basic understanding we got here made it much easier to visit subsequent castles and appreciate their unique qualities.
We spent the evening in the fortified town of Huesden, whose ramparts were totally restored in 1968. Many of these towns have not expanded greatly from the original plan. In their day, however, they were very important gathering taxes for use of the waterways and providing residents (especially merchants) from marauding Spaniards. Mileage: 18.
Days of immersion in natural and human history
On Tuesday, we rode through an impressive forest for several hours. Finally we arrived at an area famed for its sand dunes, which remind you that Holland is reclaimed from the sea. Cycling on to Geertruidenberg, we visited the oldest fortified town in Holland, which overlooks the River Amer. Here we reboarded our barge and rode the river to Dordrecht, another ancient city and known for a long time as the most powerful city in the province. Mileage: 27.
On Wednesday, we biked cross-country to the Nationaal Park De Biesbosch. This swampy area is one of the largest parks in Holland. It is formed by the junction of the River Amer and Nieuwe Merwede. At its tip is the Hollandsch Diep stretching to the Atlantic. It is famous – as a beaver reserve, but also as the hiding grounds of the Dutch Underground during World War II. The environment would not allow the Gestapo to take mechanized equipment to look for Allied airmen and Dutch resistance fighters, and any incursion by ground troops was an invitation to be decimated piecemeal.
We took a boat ride through the canals, lakes and rivers for an hour; then had lunch at the museum there. We didn't get to see a beaver chew down a tree, but we did see plenty of waterfowl as we cruised the lush islands. The museum afforded us a panorama of the area and several large rooms of exhibits pertaining to activities in the area from ancient times to the modern. One room was dedicated to various species of wildlife found throughout the park. Mileage: 18.
On Thursday, we crossed the Beneden Merwede by ferry and proceeded to wend our way through some 19 windmills built in the late 18th century. Motorized pumping stations have taken their place on the dikes, and they have been turned into private residences with the codicil that they be maintained in condition to be used, should an emergency arise. Adding to this a number of windmills built to grind grain and saw timber, and you had a landscape literally filled with windmills.
As we approached the River Lek, to the west we noted a giant cruise ship being built. The Dutch yard on the outsk
irts of Alblasserdam builds some of the largest passenger ships in the world. Rain threatened throughout the morning but waited to fall until our break in a roadside cafe. We did extend our stay inside but finally donned our rain gear and ventured out. Thankfully, as soon as we started riding, the rain stopped and we experienced only intermittent sprinkles for the remainder of the day.
Our route to Gouda took us cross-country through mile after mile of grazing land for fat and happy cows. Mileage: 30.
A town of cheeses and church windows
Before the 17th century, Gouda was chiefly known for its breweries. Now it is known for cheese and the stained-glass windows of the Sint Jans Kirche. We arrived in Gouda as the market was being packed up and saw only a couple of the wagons of cheese wheels brought to the weighing house that day. The Gouda cheese is most commonly about 24 inches in diameter and eight inches thick. Nowadays, the wheels are encased in plastic.
The Sint Jans church, the longest in The Netherlands, was begun in the 16th century. As the merchants and farmers became wealthy from their breweries, cheeses, trade etc., they displayed their wealth by purchasing stained-glass windows for their church. Neighboring towns got into the act and the church prospered.
Like all Dutch towns, Gouda has a system of canals within the town walls. We visited two fish markets just inside the town proper. One was considered for the more affluent and had a table to clean and wash the fish; the other did not. Talk about living on the wrong side of the canal.
The river on one side of town rises and falls in relation to the lake on the opposing side. A lock allows the town's canals to seek the level of the lake; once a day, the lock opens to let the river water flush out the canals.
Our final day of biking included the lake region of Reeuwijkse Plassen. Crossing the lakes were many strips of land just wide enough for houses on both sides of a single-lane road.
Unfortunately, the wind decided to pay us a visit from the north, and we were reduced to first or second gear almost the entire day. The landscape was beautiful, but the going was slow and hard. I saw a gorgeous pheasant nestled in the grass on the far side of an irrigation ditch we were riding along and later a family of swans including five cygnets in their ruffled gray coats. By the end of the day we were all exhausted, and a good stiff drink was at the top of everyone's "to do list."
We took a break in my ancestral town of Woerden (which dates back to Roman times), where my wife immediately led me down the path to sin in a cheesecake shop. A 20-foot display case two to three deep with gorgeous cheesecakes: Yes, yes, yes! So much for looking up the family in the local church. I know where it is.
Barging back to Amsterdam for a boat tour
After far too many hours fighting the wind, we met the barge again in Uithoorn and motored up to Amsterdam. After a day of trials and tribulation, there is nothing like sitting down with a good drink and discussing the day with your peers. Mileage: 27.
After dinner, most of us accompanied our guide for a nighttime boat trip through Amsterdam and its harbor. The old town was most lovely all lighted up. As we entered the harbor, a four-masted sailing ship passed between the sunset and us, an absolutely classic image.
During the tour, we motored under a replica of a Dutch galleon and past an Italian-designed building representing international shipping. Peter Heineken's hotel was a hit, sitting in its splendor on the main canal, as were the original merchant homes. The clouds disappeared, and we walked back to the barge under a star-filled sky.
After breakfast the next morning, we walked across the street to Amsterdam's Central Station; 15 minutes later, we were clearing security at the airport.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
We booked our tour through 4Winds Specialty Tours associated with American Express, which can be reached online at 4Winds Specialty Tours, by e-mail to St4winds@earthlink.net, and by telephone to (509) 967-3448.
The in-country cost was $650 per person in double accommodations. The managing director, Elfriede Wind, was very helpful, telling us about possible tours and answering our questions, her information quite complete. Our bicycle guide, Matti Walters, was a delight, keeping us pointed on down the path and walking us around the various stopping points. The umbrella tour operator was Holland Aqua Tours (HAT).

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Dec. 26, 2001 - I have the greatest respect for the Dutch. My paternal grandmother was of Dutch descent. The original American vanScoik was Cornelis Aertsen Van Schaick, who crossed the Atlantic from Woerden in the Netherlands in the early 1600s to live in New Amsterdam, later to be called New York, in the New Netherlands.
My grandmother, who lived to be over 100, was the most stubborn person I have ever met. In 1979 she stopped living because her friends and their children had died and her own relatives didn't travel to Kansas often enough to see her. I had always wanted to visit the country that produced people with such indomitable genes. Last summer, bicycling and barging proved to be a wonderful way to do so.
Our biking trip began in Amsterdam, right across the street from the Central Train Station. We arrived early, parked our bags on the good barge Zeeland and walked into the sea of people known as Old Amsterdam.
One of the first things we did was go shopping for warmer clothing, as Holland proved to be downright chilly. Clothing is one of Amsterdam's bargains, and we found very good turtleneck knits that were excellent for layering -- two for U.S. $9. We had a healthful bowl of soup at a "soup kitchen" serving a dozen varieties along with a couple of kinds of bread.
And to answer one of the inevitable questions: Yes, there are females on display in the windows of buildings in on part of town. It is a section unto itself, and we didn’t choose to spend time there. Prostitution is legal and highly controlled by the government. Holland has just legalized brothels, and we saw at least one in each of the cities and larger villages we visited. They were not obtrusive, however; you had to look for them.
Old Amsterdam appeared to have anything one would possibly want -– but far too many people for my taste.
Returning to the boat, we met our 14 fellow passengers (Dutch, German, American, South African and Canadian), four crew members and biking guide. The crew cast off, and we were away through the harbor and into the Amsterdam/Rijn Canal to Vreeswijk, just south of Utrecht.
We were supposed to take an evening bike ride to test our skills, but it was raining cats and dogs; so, instead, we spent the evening getting to know each other and the barge bar.
(The only really sour note of the trip was the admonition to purchase alcoholic beverages on board and not bring one’s own into the salon. While the boat beer and spirits were adequate, the spirits were expensive, and the wine was down right not good. Bottom line: We didn't drink openly, and the Americans smuggled on some good stuff.)
Gray skies not all that gloomy
Our first day of cycling, a Monday, began with a beautiful blue sky while we ate breakfast and packed our lunches. It quickly changing to overcast, however, when we off-loaded our bicycles. This became the norm.
Our first ride was atop a dike for the River Lek. The countryside was relatively open with lots of cows and horses. Arriving in Leerdam, we stopped for lunch by the river, and some members of the group toured the glassworks there. The glass museum was a wonder to view, but no one wanted to chance carrying such breakable art home as a souvenir. No sooner had we began our afternoon ride than the heavens opened and we all pulled out our rain gear. Since we had a date with the barge, we didn't have the option of pulling into a pub to wait out the rain but had to keep peddling.
After a while, we realized our rain gear really did work and we really were having a good time. From then on, the weather was not a factor in our excursions. In fact, after one really nice sunny period we began to relish overcast skies with a bit of a breeze. Our harbor for the night was the fortified town of Gorinchem. Here I was able to find my first superette and acquire my precious buttermilk (Karne Meik). After dinner, our guide took us for a walk around town, pointing out the places of interest. Mileage: 30.
Monday is Market Day in Gorinchem, and we spent an hour or so checking out the extensive array of goods. My wife bought a gel bike saddle cover, which stood her in good stead during the week's ride and later in Denmark. I purchased fresh cherries and a lovely hunk of cheese. Leaving the market, we met at the public dock and took a ferry across the river (with our bikes). After another short ride, we came to a large dinghy capable of taking six to seven bikes and riders at a time across to Loevestein Castle. We had to hand our bikes from the dock to the boatman, who was in excellent physical condition from lifting bicycles all day.
The castle is privately owned, which proved to be a blessing in several senses. For one, Monday is a holiday for public facilities, and another castle, owned by the government, that we visited in the afternoon was closed. But the owners opened the private property for us and gave us a private tour. The castle opened to the general public as we pedaled off to our next destination.
The family lived in the grand manor house on the castle grounds and kept the castle up in order to make money from tours. Although the furnishings were sparse, most of the rooms were original parts of the structure. A really nice thing about the tour was our freedom to nose around, ask questions and get a good understanding of what it must have been like to live in a castle. The basic understanding we got here made it much easier to visit subsequent castles and appreciate their unique qualities.
We spent the evening in the fortified town of Huesden, whose ramparts were totally restored in 1968. Many of these towns have not expanded greatly from the original plan. In their day, however, they were very important gathering taxes for use of the waterways and providing residents (especially merchants) from marauding Spaniards. Mileage: 18.
Days of immersion in natural and human history
On Tuesday, we rode through an impressive forest for several hours. Finally we arrived at an area famed for its sand dunes, which remind you that Holland is reclaimed from the sea. Cycling on to Geertruidenberg, we visited the oldest fortified town in Holland, which overlooks the River Amer. Here we reboarded our barge and rode the river to Dordrecht, another ancient city and known for a long time as the most powerful city in the province. Mileage: 27.
On Wednesday, we biked cross-country to the Nationaal Park De Biesbosch. This swampy area is one of the largest parks in Holland. It is formed by the junction of the River Amer and Nieuwe Merwede. At its tip is the Hollandsch Diep stretching to the Atlantic. It is famous – as a beaver reserve, but also as the hiding grounds of the Dutch Underground during World War II. The environment would not allow the Gestapo to take mechanized equipment to look for Allied airmen and Dutch resistance fighters, and any incursion by ground troops was an invitation to be decimated piecemeal.
We took a boat ride through the canals, lakes and rivers for an hour; then had lunch at the museum there. We didn't get to see a beaver chew down a tree, but we did see plenty of waterfowl as we cruised the lush islands. The museum afforded us a panorama of the area and several large rooms of exhibits pertaining to activities in the area from ancient times to the modern. One room was dedicated to various species of wildlife found throughout the park. Mileage: 18.
On Thursday, we crossed the Beneden Merwede by ferry and proceeded to wend our way through some 19 windmills built in the late 18th century. Motorized pumping stations have taken their place on the dikes, and they have been turned into private residences with the codicil that they be maintained in condition to be used, should an emergency arise. Adding to this a number of windmills built to grind grain and saw timber, and you had a landscape literally filled with windmills.
As we approached the River Lek, to the west we noted a giant cruise ship being built. The Dutch yard on the outsk irts of Alblasserdam builds some of the largest passenger ships in the world. Rain threatened throughout the morning but waited to fall until our break in a roadside cafe. We did extend our stay inside but finally donned our rain gear and ventured out. Thankfully, as soon as we started riding, the rain stopped and we experienced only intermittent sprinkles for the remainder of the day.
Our route to Gouda took us cross-country through mile after mile of grazing land for fat and happy cows. Mileage: 30.
A town of cheeses and church windows
Before the 17th century, Gouda was chiefly known for its breweries. Now it is known for cheese and the stained-glass windows of the Sint Jans Kirche. We arrived in Gouda as the market was being packed up and saw only a couple of the wagons of cheese wheels brought to the weighing house that day. The Gouda cheese is most commonly about 24 inches in diameter and eight inches thick. Nowadays, the wheels are encased in plastic.
The Sint Jans church, the longest in The Netherlands, was begun in the 16th century. As the merchants and farmers became wealthy from their breweries, cheeses, trade etc., they displayed their wealth by purchasing stained-glass windows for their church. Neighboring towns got into the act and the church prospered.
Like all Dutch towns, Gouda has a system of canals within the town walls. We visited two fish markets just inside the town proper. One was considered for the more affluent and had a table to clean and wash the fish; the other did not. Talk about living on the wrong side of the canal.
The river on one side of town rises and falls in relation to the lake on the opposing side. A lock allows the town's canals to seek the level of the lake; once a day, the lock opens to let the river water flush out the canals.
Our final day of biking included the lake region of Reeuwijkse Plassen. Crossing the lakes were many strips of land just wide enough for houses on both sides of a single-lane road.
Unfortunately, the wind decided to pay us a visit from the north, and we were reduced to first or second gear almost the entire day. The landscape was beautiful, but the going was slow and hard. I saw a gorgeous pheasant nestled in the grass on the far side of an irrigation ditch we were riding along and later a family of swans including five cygnets in their ruffled gray coats. By the end of the day we were all exhausted, and a good stiff drink was at the top of everyone's "to do list."
We took a break in my ancestral town of Woerden (which dates back to Roman times), where my wife immediately led me down the path to sin in a cheesecake shop. A 20-foot display case two to three deep with gorgeous cheesecakes: Yes, yes, yes! So much for looking up the family in the local church. I know where it is.
Barging back to Amsterdam for a boat tour
After far too many hours fighting the wind, we met the barge again in Uithoorn and motored up to Amsterdam. After a day of trials and tribulation, there is nothing like sitting down with a good drink and discussing the day with your peers. Mileage: 27.
After dinner, most of us accompanied our guide for a nighttime boat trip through Amsterdam and its harbor. The old town was most lovely all lighted up. As we entered the harbor, a four-masted sailing ship passed between the sunset and us, an absolutely classic image.
During the tour, we motored under a replica of a Dutch galleon and past an Italian-designed building representing international shipping. Peter Heineken's hotel was a hit, sitting in its splendor on the main canal, as were the original merchant homes. The clouds disappeared, and we walked back to the barge under a star-filled sky.
After breakfast the next morning, we walked across the street to Amsterdam's Central Station; 15 minutes later, we were clearing security at the airport.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
We booked our tour through 4Winds Specialty Tours associated with American Express, which can be reached online at 4Winds Specialty Tours, by e-mail to St4winds@earthlink.net, and by telephone to (509) 967-3448.
The in-country cost was $650 per person in double accommodations. The managing director, Elfriede Wind, was very helpful, telling us about possible tours and answering our questions, her information quite complete. Our bicycle guide, Matti Walters, was a delight, keeping us pointed on down the path and walking us around the various stopping points. The umbrella tour operator was Holland Aqua Tours (HAT).