Tag Archives: Marken

FIVE DUTCH VILLAGES – a day’s cycling from Amsterdam

Markermeer - they don't call it 'Waterland' for nothing.

Markermeer – they don’t call it ‘Waterland’ for nothing.

A sunny day, a gentle breeze, a work deadline met, bike chain oiled and legs in need of a stretch. Time to do one of my favourite loop rides from Amsterdam, out into Waterland, aiming to visit five of Holland’s most picturesque villages.

Two of the most visited posts on this blog are about Waterland and Dutch villages, so there’s another excuse to put the two together in one pretty, watery ride and have a story to tell at the end of it.
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MARKEN, HOLLAND – riding the wind

‘The weather’s good,’ says my Dutch friend and cycling guide Hans, ‘Let’s ride to Marken’. It is a perfect day for getting on the bike – cool and sunny, unusual for Holland. There are just a couple of small problems.

‘Bit windy,’ I suggest.

‘Gentle north-easter,’ says Hans. ‘We can ride straight into it to start with, then it will blow us home.’

‘Okay, fine.  Marken.’

From Amsterdam, that means heading north into Waterland. The little ferry that chugs across from Amsterdam Centraal is free, and packed with cyclists. Two minutes later we’re on the other side, heading up the path beside the waterway.

‘This canal goes all the way to Den Helder,’ says Hans, ’75km.’

The gentle north-easter is picking up a bit. I’m trying to keep my breathing regular. ‘Oh,’ I say.

‘Marken’s closer than that,’ says Hans.

‘Good.’

‘Stop for koffie on the way?’

‘Very good.’

It’s lovely countryside, green fields criss-crossed by canals, with pretty villages like Holysloot and Broek in Waterland. I find plenty of excuses to prise my tender non-Dutch backside off the saddle to take photos of the baby lambs, the baby hares, the baby ducks…

Ransdorp

But while we pedal, I mainly concentrate on riding right on Hans’ rear wheel to get some shelter from the north-easterly gale that’s  suddenly sprung up, coming exactly from the Marken direction.  Hans’s bike is old, but it looks lighter than mine, with thinner, faster tyres, and Hans has thinner, faster legs pushing the pedals around.

Koffie break town - Monnickendam

We do stop for koffie in Monnickendam. ‘Koffie’  is a popular drink at cafes in Holland, but should not be confused with ‘coffee’, as we Australians know it, let alone with ‘caffe’ as the real stuff is made in Italy. Most Dutch cafes haven’t come close to getting it right, though I have found one exception – I had a perfectly acceptable cappuccino in Den Haag this week. ‘We’ve all done the barista course,’ the waitress told me, and it showed. Cafe Zebedeus – it deserves a mention.

But I digress. Monnickendam has other things going for it – lots of pleasant places to sit by an attractive little harbour.

Then we climb on the bikes and up on to the dyke, where a north easterly tornado is doing its best to stop us reaching Marken. But heads down, tails up and working together we cross the few kilometres of causeway now connecting the island of Marken to the mainland.

Traditional Marken resident

Marken is touristy, that’s for sure, but it can’t be blamed for that. Paris is allowed to be touristy, and even Venice and Amsterdam can get away with it. If you go there you don’t expect to be the only visitors, rubbing shoulders with colourful locals who treat you as one of the family as they  go about their colourful traditional business.

Marken used to have a colourful tradition. It was settled by colourful 13th century monks, then by fishing families who wore traditional costumes and spoke a dialect barely comprehensible to mainlanders.  But when the massive ‘Afsluit’ dyke to the north closed off the Zuiderzee, that was pretty much the end of fishing as the Markeners had known it.  And there’s not as much call for monks as there was in the 13th century.  So what else could Marken turn to but tourism? The colourful costumes are now on display in the little museum, while the Markeners themselves run cafes and souvenir shops.

Every building must be painted green and white, it seems. Put them all together and you have a tourist magnet.

‘Koffie by the harbour, Richard?’

‘Excellent idea.’

Koffie has the same effect on the bladder as coffee. The urinals in the toilets in Cafe Marken must have been installed by the world’s tallest plumbers. I regard myself as about average height, but the little basins are nearly level with my navel. They should supply boxes for non-giants to stand on.

Marken waterfront - note the intrepid cyclist in foreground

But relieved of liquid ballast, the ride home is a breeze. There is no wind at all, or so it feels, but when we take our feet off the pedals we’re still magically rolling along the dyke at about 30kph. Uitdam, Holysloot and Ransdorp flash by and we’re soon back at the ferry again, looking over to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.

‘Want to do it again, Richard?’ says Hans.

‘Um, now?’

‘How about next week? We could see which way the wind’s blowing, take the bikes on the train, ride back with the wind behind us.’

‘Sure. Absolutely. Beauty.’

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AMSTERDAM, WATERLAND – cycling the Dutch countryside

Everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam, but that’s just the problem. If you avoid getting sideswiped by a bus, you may tangle with another bike, probably pedalled by a tourist just as bewildered as you are.

So try cycling into the countryside, the healthy green alternative. You’ll survive. You’ll enjoy it. I always  do.

Rent a bike at any of the hire places close to Amsterdam Centraal Station and ask for a map of ‘Waterland’, north-east of the city. You can join an organised cycle tour to take you there, which is fine if you want to meet Knut from Norway or swap travellers’ tales with Betsy and Brad from Ohio. But if you’d rather save a few euros and ride at your own pace, you can easily go off on your own.

Check your tyres and saddle height, trying to look competent. Note that there’s no need to actually ride yet. The front of Centraal Station is a confusing nightmare of roads going in all directions, with trams, taxis and buses raising the degree of difficulty, so it’s not the ideal place to start your Dutch cycling career.

Instead, wheel your bike through to the back of Centraal. Behind the station people wait for little blue ferries, which putter across the North Sea Canal to “Buiksloterweg”. Fear not – you won’t have to pronounce the word, just hop aboard. Don’t fumble in your pocket for euros; the ferries are free. They’re for bikes and pedestrians only, and take just two minutes to reach the other side.

Once there, pretend to check your tyres again and wait while the cool racing riders in their revealing shorts speed into the distance. There’s a wide, flat cycle path in front of you. I repeat – wide, flat, cycle path. No cars, no-one watching, so wobble as much as you like. Turn off at a friendly sign, “Schellingwoude” – (don’t even think of saying this out loud). Then it‘s a doddle to roll along the bike path through shady parks beside the North Holland Canal. Even without gear changes or special cycling legs you’ll get out under the Amsterdam Ring Road in about twenty minutes.

Welcome to Waterland. There are cows grazing in green fields, ducks on canals, little white bridges, church towers poking up out of distant villages and flat bike paths everywhere. There are signposts at every intersection, and even if you get lost it won’t matter because it’s all so stunningly pretty.

Where you go now is up to you. A quiet 20-25km loop through old villages Zunderdorp and Ransdorp, out to Durgerdam, and back to Amsterdam will take about two hours, including a coffee break. If you’re up to riding all day and doing 75km, you can eat cheese in Edam, ride the dyke to historic Marken, zip down to Nieuwendam and still be back in town for a pre-dinner beer. There are lots of middle roads between these gentle and masochistic alternatives.

So, first through the polders, those fields rescued from total sogginess by the little canals cut through them. The villages of Zunderdorp, Zuiderwoude and Broek in Waterland are notable for their old houses and churches. It’s apparently compulsory here to have geranium pots by your windows and massed pink and purple hydrangeas in a lush garden. The farms look so prosperous they couldn’t possibly be real farms. Surely they’re country retreats owned by merchant bankers. Or are subsidies so generous in this area that a farmer with ten cows can also afford six horses?

The wetlands between the fields are protected nature reserves. There are oyster-catchers, lapwings, redshanks, a kestrel (okay, I’ve got a bird book) and thousands of geese. Every canal has its ducks, coots and resident white swans.

It’s quiet, but you won’t have the road all to yourself. You’ll meet sporty types on matching his and hers touring bikes. A mother rides with a toddler mounted on her handlebars and older children on their own bikes proudly weaving alongside. From time to time peletons of wannabe Rabobank riders whip by in tight formation. Then there’s that older couple riding at a snail’s pace, but always turning up in front of you, no matter how often you overtake them.

Sorry if you were hoping to see old windmills. Out here they’re modern ones, converting that wind you’re cycling against into clean green electricity. The power lines in the background sometimes spoil a good photo, but this is right outside a major capital city, so what did you expect?

If your legs are still functioning, follow the signs to Monnickendam, Volendam and Edam. According to my dictionary,  ‘dam’ is Dutch for dam, and there are lots of them in Waterland. What used to be the Zuiderzee (South Sea) is now cut off from the North Sea by a massive dyke and has become a lake, the IJsselmeer.

Many bus tours stop in Volendam, so it’s the perfect place to shop for “I love Holland” baseball caps, but Edam and Monnickendam are my favourites. During the summer, Edam puts on a popular cheese market show on Wednesday mornings, with men in silly costumes running round carrying huge trays of the stuff and tossing it on to horse-drawn carts. It’s very crowded but fun, in a cheesy sort of way. Monnickendam is quieter, quirkier and still a working shipyard. It’s a fine place to stop at a café for “koffie and appeltaart”, neither of which are prohibited substances under amateur cycling rules.

Head east along the dyke to the island of Marken. Yes, you can ride a bike to this island, because since 1952 it’s been connected to the mainland by a causeway. In the old days, Marken fisherfolk wore colourful traditional dress. Now Marken’s main industry is selling postcards of colourful fisherfolk. However, the green wooden houses, perched on stilts or built on mounds to keep their feet dry, offer great photo opportunities, as does the lighthouse on the tip of the island.

Your backside is probably telling you it wouldn’t mind a hot bath some time soon. So turn for home past Durgerdam, with its row of fishermen’s cottages, and along Nieuwendammerdijk, recently voted ‘Amsterdam’s second most beautiful street’ in a newspaper poll. Winner was the Brouwersgracht in the centre of town, but the mere fact that Nieuwendam can claim to be part of Amsterdam suggests you’re nearly back in the big smoke.

See – you survived Waterland! As the ferry chugs over to Centraal you have two minutes to consider keeping that bike and riding it round town tomorrow. Good luck!

RECOMMENDED MULTI-DAY RIDES IN THE NETHERLANDS:

THE GREEN HEART – Amsterdam-Leiden-Rotterdam-Gouda-Utrecht

FRIESLAND – The northern province

ZEELAND – bikes on dykes in the south

Guidebook:

Bicycle Touring Holland – Katherine Widing 2005
http://www.cyclepublishing.com

Bicycle hire

Macbike at Amsterdam Centraal Station has rental bikes from 8.50 Euros a day.

Guided 5 hour tour of Waterland  – 25 Euros including bike hire

www.macbike.nl

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, Travel, Travel- Europe