So after a day for my dynamic crew to familiarise themselves into the Dutch way of life – and of course sample some local food and drink! – it was time to begin our three leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem. The first of three legs was a three day tour of the North Holland peninsula. It was the first visit for Team Tandem Ecosse to Holland – having been persuaded to give it a try by recommendations about both the scenic and flat landscape, and of course the fabulous network of brilliantly signposted cycle paths.
The “old git” had selected a route which promised “Holland at is flattest” with the peninsula tour “fitting the image that most foreigners have of Holland – with its dykes, canals, clogs, cheese and windmills.” The route selected was a 90-odd mile loop from Amsterdam to Marken and Vollendam before crossing inland to Alkmaar, then back down to Amsterdam through the historic River Zaan settlements.
And in a break from previous years, Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided. Instead of booking through a tour company – which offered step-by-step tried and tested routes and daily luggage transfers – my dynamic crew had booked all their own overnight stops, checked out the routes, and were carrying everything they needed in four panniers!
It was certainly interesting – particularly the routes part … which threw up lots of opportunity for “discussions” about what was the correct way to go!
Day 1 – Tandeming the dykes from Amsterdam to Marken then boat to Volendam
My dynamic crew woke feeling very sprightly – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – in preparation for the actual Le Grand Depart of the Euro tandem tour 2017. Excitement was palpable over the brilliant breakfast buffet spread at our Amsterdam base – the superb Westcord Art Hotel .
A final check of my panniers and Team Tandem Ecosse were ready – but only after the “old gal” looked somewhat puzzled and perplexed at the electronic bike charger units in the hotel car park – I mean classic tandems don’t have battery power for goodness sake! But it does underline the fabulous infrastructure which exists for bikes in Holland. There was also the matter of taking the “start of tour” picture” for posterity – then we were off!
Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
The first part of the ride was retracing our steps from yesterday along the amazing cycle paths – down by scenic canals – to the front of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station for a ferry across to the north of the city. This was an amazing experience as there were bikes everywhere queuing up for the short five minute crossing to Buiksloterwerg. Clearly this was a very busy commuter route as most people seemed to be heading to work. There were four ferries continually heading back and forth across the water to meet the demand – and whats more it was free! It was actually difficult for my crew not to stop and stare at the scene before them.
Actually I think it was the commuters who were staring at my dynamic crew as they looked somewhat “tourists abroad” with a tandem and all kitted out in their Tour de France King of the Mountain cycling jerseys! However one or two friendly locals did get the joke as the “old git” and “old gal” had deliberately chosen to wear those jerseys because the terrain was so flat!
The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured some of the eye-catching scenes at the ferry which you can view by clicking here:
On leaving the ferry, and all the commuters, we quickly found the cycle route we required – LF7 and pedalled off. It really is quite difficult to describe the incredible network of cycle paths without experiencing it at first hand as it is something which my dynamic crew have never seen before. All the paths are very clearly signposted and intersections with other paths are clearly flagged up. Essentially all you have to do is take a note of junction numbers and follow your route that way! Easy! And the paths themselves are a real joy – flat, with great smooth tarmac surfaces ideal for road bikes.
My crew easily found the next route – LF21 – which would take us all the way to our destination of Marken. It was fantastic tandeming as we headed along the dykes taking in the spectacular scenery of Lake Markermeer and the village of Durgerdam.
We pedalled on thru Uitdam – stopping for a coffee in what was essentially someone’s front garden … complete with dedicated bike parking spot! – before heading along the causeway and onto the former island of Marken.
Good tandeming friends Jane and John – who hosted Team Matilda for the recent Tour de New Forest and who have their own blog Travelling in Tandem – said we had to visit the lighthouse known as the Paard van Marken – or the Horse of Marken in English. Although not open to the public it offers a great spot for some spectacular photos and was well worth a short diversion off the route to the town.
Time for lunch and a handy supermarket provided the perfect ingredients for the first picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 – some freshly baked bread, grapes, ham, local cheese, salads and the obligatory bottle of prosecco which cost the princely sum of just three euros!
We pedaled into the quaint fishing village of Marken for lunch which prides itself in maintaining the authentic atmosphere of the old days – and found a perfect spot at the edge of the harbour wall … even if we did have to fight off some rather aggressive sparrows who were keen to share our picnic!
After lunch there was time to explore more of the village of Marken with its small alleys, drawbridges and closely built houses which sit on top of mounds to protect them from floods. A souvenir shop allowed the “old git” to tick the requirement to get a silly photo wearing giant clogs!
The next part of the trip involved a 30 minute ferry crossing from Marken to the village of Voldendam – which was to be our base for the night. There are regular crossings on the Volednam-Marken Express ferry service which offers a special cyclists ticket which included a welcome coffee and a slice of home made apple pie! Oh if you insist!
Volendam is a bit special – its definitely a must see tourist fishing village offering what it describes as “an atmosphere of geniality and romance.” The locals say here are 16 million Dutch citizens and 22,000 Volendammers in Holland – as that sums up the different nature of the local people who are renowned for their hard work and hospitality.
A quick tandem around the village and the harbour saw today’s tandmeing come to an end with a beer at one of the many bars overlooking the picturesque harbour. There is clearly money here given the expensive nature of some of the boats tied up.
My dynamic crew then checked into the historic Art Hotel Spaander which dates back to 1881 – happy to be booked into a room with a balcony overlooking the IJsselmeer.
Time for a bit of relaxation and showers for the “old gal” and the “old git” before a fabulous meal of different types of mussels dishes in a traditional pub setting on the edge of the harbour! Bliss! I can officially say that Team Tandem Ecosse are enjoying their first Dutch experience!
So a great first day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 21.9 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you may need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
Day 2 – Cheesy but fab ride from Volendam thru Edam to the historic windmills of Alkmaar
After a night of deep sleep my dynamic crew were up early and out on the balcony of their room to take in the amazing views over the water with the sun already shining brightly. Clearly it was going to be a spectacular day with a tandem ride to taste Edam in Edam before heading further up the coast then turning in land thru historic windmill country to the city of Alkmaar.
Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Team Tandem Ecosse pedalled off leaving Volendam behind with a short tandem of just three miles to our first stop of the day – the historical town of Edam, famous for the cheese which bears its name! My dynamic crew were immediately taken by the beauty of this town which dates back to the 12th Century, and enjoyed taking in the views of some of its many narrow canals and pretty bridges.
Now the main aim of visiting this town was for the “old git” and the “old gal” to tick the bucket list item of sampling the world renowned Edam cheese in Edam. They quickly found Henri Willig’s specialty cheese shop based in a 16th century building in the historical centre and popped in to taste some of the many varieties on offer.
The “old gal” – who has a particular fondness for cheese – thought she had died and gone to heaven as the samples kept coming! Eventually my crew decided to purchase three different flavours of Edam – hazelnut, pesto, and the star attraction … truffle.
After taking the tourist must-do pictures with the cheese cart, my crew stocked up with goodies for today’s picnic at a wonderful deli which insisted in packing everything in picnic friendly tubs and recommended a bottle of “local” slightly sparkling vinho verde for me to carry in my la bouclee wine carrier – emphasising the Dutch-Portugal connections!
After a morning coffee it was noon as my dynamic crew set off with nearly 30 miles still to go! But it was truly sensational tandeming again with the sun beating down as we pedalled along the dykes up the coast towards Warder and Schadam on LF21 where we headed inland – to cycle almost right across the peninsula from east to west to Alkmaar, all along the one fantastic cycle path, LF15.
The “old gal” and the “old git” were both hugely impressed with the signposting on the cycle path – particularly the “old gal” who could relax a bit from her map reading duties and just follow a series of junction numbers, all clearly flagged up in big green circles on signposts with direction arrows.
The landscape changed as we cycled away from the coast, with us pedalling past neatly lined polders – which are small pieces of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a lake and protected by dykes. It was amazingly scenic and my dynamic crew revelled in cycling along a long flat tree lined avenue which seperated two banks of polders. Not surprisingly the miles just flew past with ease!
We were promised historic windmills on this route and just as my crew were starting to get peckish, windmills suddenly sprung up before our eyes! What a magnificent sight they were. We had arrived at Schermerhorn, the site of Museum Molen or the windmill museum.
A picnic bench in the shadow of the only windmill of the Golden Century which is accessible for visitors offered a perfect spot for my dynamic crew’s late lunch. The whirr of the four mast windmill as it turned in the wind made the experience all the more atmospheric.
After refuelling there was time for a tour of the windmill – including a great display and video explaining exactly how the windmills were used to raise and lower the water levels in the fields. The big highlight for my crew was being able to go inside the windmill to see it as it would have been all those centuries ago – and to be able to climb up very steep ladders right to the very top.
The “old git” was virtually speechless – and that doesn’t happen very often! – but back on ground level he regained his composure to shoot a short video of the “old gal” standing in front of the impressive sails as they turned effortlessly in the wind – which you can watch by clicking here:
The visit finished with a couple of purchases in the museum shop – including … yes you’ve guessed a pair of clogs! But these weren’t your normal tourist clogs – oh no! These were authentic clogs – as worn by a Dutch farmer which are going to feature as a garden decoration back at Matildas Rest! The only slight problem was that my crew had to find a place in the panniers to carry them!
There was even time for the “old gal” to pose for a silly photo in the decorative giant clogs before we had to leave just before the museum’s closing time and pedal on to our overnight stop in Alkmaar.
Buoyed by such a fantastic history lesson experience, the pedaling was easier than ever – helped by the fact that within two miles of the restart we came across a run of another three of the windmills in a row by the edge of the cycle path. The curator of the museum had told us to look out for them as they had been converted into luxurious homes – and she and her family stayed in the first one.
It was an almost surreal experience and certainly one of the best sights my dynamic crew have ever seen from a cycle path! The “old gal” quickly switched her phone to video camera and shot some footage as we tandemed past, which you can watch here:
The last few miles into the city were a joy despite arriving at the height of rush hour as the bike is the key mode of transport here. We pedaled along very busy cycle paths alongside lots of commuters who were showing great interest in me as an “old lady” classic tandem. One of the best bits was the cycle traffic lights which held up the cars on the dual carriageway to let all the bikes cross in safety – with clear priority over vehicles. The very last stage – right outside our hotel – was a roundabout for bikes on the perimeter of the main vehicle roundabout … and again bikes had priority. The infrastructure for two wheeled travel was simply gobsmackingly awe inspiring!
After checking in to the Amrath Hotel in Alkmaar – and making sure I was safe and secure in the car park – my dynamic crew set about some mundane tasks of life as tandem tourists – with a washing being high on the agenda to ensure cycling clothes were fresh. A handy washing line over the shower in the bathroom helped the process!
Washing done it was time for my crew to head out to sample the delights of Alkmaar by night. The “old gal” spotted a rather nice looking Italian restaurant in the shadows of the impressive Grote Sint-Laurenskerk church – and they savoured a reviving gin and tonic before ordering what turned out to be massive pizzas washed down with a cheeky Italian red wine! Yum! Perfect for recharging those batteries before some much needed sleep!
There was one rather amusing final act of the day when three Dutch ladies accosted the “old git” in the hotel lift after spotting the flags painted on his toenails and in unison shouted: “S – e – x- y”! Oh how it made his night!
So a sensational second day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 29.7 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
Day 3 – Alkmaar cheese market and getting very lost in rain in windmill country on ride back to Amsterdam
The final leg of our Holland taster part of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 and Team Tandem Ecosse were taking in the historic cheese market at Alkmaar before the not insubstantial matter of a near 40 mile ride through the beautiful River Zaan area back into Amsterdam in plenty of time for a risque night out for my dynamic crew in the Red Light district! A straightforward schedule surely with the flat landscape and the great cycle path signposting! Surely …. ?!
Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Without doubt, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is the main attraction in the city. And the “old git” and the “old gal” were in luck as this was Friday – the day of the weekly market where cheese is traded according to a tradition that is centuries old.
A cheese market has been taking place in Alkmaar since 1365 and it was certainly a colourful spectacle full of folklore which met my crew in picturesque Waagplein square in the centre of the city which was mobbed with tourists as the bell rang at 10am to mark the beginning of trading. Some 30,000 kilos, or 2200 whole cheeses, were lined up and waiting for customers.
Fortunately my dynamic crew found a space on the tiered seating and were able to take in all the atmosphere of the spectacle – including watching the ‘kaasdragers’, or cheese porters, carrying the whole cheeses on their wooden sledges on straps from their shoulders, wearing their traditional outfits of white clothes, straw hats and bow ties – all surrounded by girls in traditional pretty Dutch costume. The sledges carry eight Gouda cheeses, each of them weighing 13,5 kilos. Due to the weight the carriers walk with a special “cheese carriers’dribble” – a particular walking rhythm to make it easier.
The “old gal” – who in a classic understatement is known to like a bit of cheese – somehow managed to catch the eye of one of the traders who was sampling the huge round cheeses who gave her a lesson in how to inspect the cheese. This involved more than just looking at its exterior – the cheese is knocked on and then a special cheese scoop is pushed into the cheese to extract a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. And, naturally, it is tasted to assess the relation between taste, and the percentages of fat and moisture. The “old git” managed to video the “old gal” doing the sampling – which you can watch by clicking here:
Not wishing to be outdone, the “old git” had to get involved and found himself being the subject of a weighing in the Waaggebouw and proudly got a certificate saying he was the equivalent weight of 105 kgs of Gouda! Naturally there was a cheesy photo – complete with straw hat!
Surrounding the cheese market was a whole range of market stalls and some sketches of couples on bicycles from a local artist – called Sietse Wiersma – caught the “old gal’s” attention. Obviously she asked if had any drawings of tandems and sadly he didn’t. But on buying a couple of his prints, Sietse quickly drew a personal greeting on the wrapping – complete with a tandem image!
As time marched on, my dynamic crew had to pull themselves away from the cheese market – and after a coffee beside one of the canals, and picking up some picnic supplies, we pedalled out of Alkmaar at 12.30pm confident we would be back in Amsterdam at 4.30pm at an average of 10 mph.
Then it all started to go a bit wrong and got a tad frustrating for my crew who became a bit less than dynamic for a spell! We found the cycle path to leave the city ok and hit the first point of Helios and then headed for the town of Limmen where all of a sudden the route numbers bizarrely disappeared!
At this point we were lost in a housing estate which resulted in several repetitions of a process of asking for directions, interpreting confused looks, cycling on a bit, and getting lost again! Oh and it started to rain … heavily! So much so that my crew’s fetching blue ponchos and my snazzy pannier rain covers made an appearance! Oh how the “old git” and the “old gal” laughed! Not!
After seeking refuge in a cafe, and getting a useful bit of advice from a local cyclist, we headed off with fingers crossed and with a bit of luck rejoined the cycle path and its junction numbers. Why there was a stretch where they were missing is obviously a mystery. But it made my crew feel lots better when we saw several groups of tourist cyclists bemusedly looking at maps and scratching their heads as they found the same problem in the opposite direction.
We had lost nearly two hours shuttling back and forth in frustration – but the rain started to clear as we pedaled through pleasant open countryside – on our route – and into Wormerveer. A quick check that we were going the correct way and we headed on with the “old gal” and the “old git” impressed to suddenly find themselves tandeming in the sunshine thru the fabulous Zaanse Schans – which is an inhabited recreated neighbourhood in the style of this area on the River Zaan in the 17th-18th Centuries – with its beautiful dark green wooden buildings, bridges and windmills.
This area was a real highlight although it was clearly a major tourist attraction. Fortunately my crew stopped at a small cafe at the first windmill – where it was still fairly quiet and had a reviving hot chocolate and ate their picnic as a (very) late lunch. Again it was fascinating to discover the heritage here – with these windmills originally being used as industrial windmills for uses such as sawmills.
Refreshed after some sustenance my crew were feeling more dynamic and embarked on the last stretch of the route back with gusto – enjoying cycling thru scenic parkland around Landsmeer and then along the banks of a canal back towards the Buiksloterweg ferry to cross back to Amsterdam.
It was late into Friday night rush hour now and the cycle paths were as busy as motorways with people rushing to get home for the weekend. At one junction such was the congestion of bikes that we had the almost unbelievable experience of having to queue and wait with other bikes for three repetitions of the cycle traffic lights to cross a main dual carriageway!
Team Tandem Ecosse finally arrived back at the Westcord Art Hotel just as the sun was setting after a long, but – in the most part – fabulous day on my saddles!
As I was safely locked up in the underground car park, there was time for a quick but very welcome shower for my crew and a quick change before catching the bus back into the city centre for an evening in the Red Light District! They tucked into a hamburger meal before wandering around the narrow streets and canals with their eyes wide open in amazement as they took in the scene and the window displays!
For a laugh my crew decided to pay a visit to the Red Light Secrets museum and the “old gal” even had the opportunity to experience how it felt to sit in one of the windows!
After an entertaining evening of people watching a quiet drink in a side street brought the evening to an end as my crew returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
The final day of the first leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covered 38.7 miles but there was a Strava recording error due to a mobile phone battery running out. The app still recorded the correct distance but very wrongly had us cycling for nearly nine hours at an average speed of just 4.5 mph. The trusted old fashioned milometer on my handlebars recorded the same distance but in an actual cycling time just short of four hours at a more respectable average of nearly 10 mph. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
So to conclude the first leg of the Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their taster tour of Holland with its highly impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat! We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!
Meanwhile it is time to drive to Strasbourg and tackle the Alsace a velo!