On April 2, our enthusiastic tour guests departed from Amsterdam’s small ship harbor, Oosterdok. I’m not sure who was more excited to get the cruise underway, our tour guests or the crew of the Zwaantje, our beautifully appointed floating hotel, fully equipped with all we needed for our 8 day voyage through the cities, countryside and canals of North and South Holland in search of tulips! On the bike, we enjoyed scenic landscapes, off the bike, excursions and evening walks with our bike guide Hans.
Our captain Martijn welcomed us aboard, introduced the crew, and conducted a briefing before heading to the wheelhouse to point us in the direction of Haarlem where we would spend the first night. On the way, we docked briefly at Spaarndam so the cyclists could disembark for a bike fitting and short test ride so Hans could dial in everyone’s fit. We meandered through the polders, past cow pastures and windmills. The ship continued on to the mooring on Haarlem’s Donkere Spaarne, just steps away from the city’s historic center. While all that was in motion, our lovely hostess Karin prepared the dining room for dinner while chef Frank got busy preparing a feast for the eyes and the belly in the ship’s kitchen.
Later that evening, we enjoyed the first of many fine meals. Once I provide the culinary crew with any dietary needs of my guests, they design menus that all of our guests can enjoy. Our meals were, as the Dutch say, “lekker”, a tasty variety of cuisines including Dutch (bitterballen!), Indonesian (a nod to the country’s spice trading history and my vote for favorite meal of the week), French (coq au vin – oh wow) and Italian (veggie pasta and a trio of bruschetta spreads). Check out our meal diary video below!
Our guests began each day of the tour with a hearty buffet breakfast at 8 AM. On most mornings we also prepared our own boxed lunch for later. Sometimes we disembarked at 9 to start the daily bike ride, on other days we stayed onboard to enjoy a cruise and light lunch on the way to whatever town we’d start the ride. We experienced the full range of “typical” Dutch weather during the tour: sunshine, headwinds and tailwinds, rain, and yes, a brief sprinkling of sleet, but our adventurous guests took it all in stride. When the weather didn’t promise a safe ride, there were other ways to pass the time and enjoy the scenery from the cozy lounge on board. Some joined the captain in the wheelhouse, others read a book, and a few guests toiled over an impossible jigsaw puzzle featuring too many tiny tulips and too much sky!
Our tour itinerary included several fun excursions like the flower gardens at Keukenhof, where seven million flower bulbs are planted annually and bloom throughout the spring. We turned our guests loose to explore on their own the sprawling acres of tulips, hyacinths, orchids and more.
A few days later, it was totally worth waking up before the birds to witness all the early morning action at Aalsmeer, the largest flower auction in the world. After we jumped back on the Zwaantje for a late breakfast, we were treated to a lovely sail through Amsterdam on the way to Zaandam. Once our crew secured the “rock star mooring” amidst a stiff breeze, we set out to discover just what one of those working windmills were whipping up at Zaanse Schans. As it turns out – paint! “De Kat” as it’s known, is a mill that grinds stones to make pigments. The mill’s arms were feverishly spinning so we were able to see all the action inside. After our visit, we strolled through a village of historic homes, a cheese “winkel” with plenty of free samples, and the Klompenmakerij which conducts live wooden shoemaking demonstrations. If you’re not in the market for your own pair of wooden shoes, you might want to consider picking up a pair of kitschy klompen-shaped bedroom slippers. I did!
We like to do things a little different on a Stephanie Ventures tour so I arranged a special visit to meet a herd of friendly cows at de Witte Gravin, a dairy farm in my new hometown of Alphen aan den Rijn. My farmer friend Sari showed us around and answered questions from our curious guests about what it’s like to raise dairy cows in Holland’s Green Heart. Dairy is the queen of the food groups in these parts so we got our fill in many forms! De Witte Gravin sells milk on tap in a cute roadside shed. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! During the week we also enjoyed local cheese, warm siroopwafels and stroopwafels, cheese, artisan chocolate, cheese and more cheese. Exploring the Cheese Experience in Gouda was a fun alternative to spending a rainy afternoon on a bike.
Thanks for visiting the blog! Have I sparked a little wanderlust? I do hope you’ll consider traveling with me on one of our other 2022 tours which are featured at the top of the home page or you can view them here:
Panoramas in Provence (June 4-11)
Panoramas in Provence (June 11-18)
Beautiful Burgundy (Aug 23-30)