History of the VOC and the Zuiderzee
The VOC or Verenigde Oostindische Companie sailed its tall ships from Amsterdam and other harbours along the Zuiderzee in the 1600s and 1700s. They sailed to the ‘East Indies’ including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries to bring back spices, tea and other delicacies. The Zuiderzee was then a large bay protected by a string of Islands on the north coast of Holland where these tall ships could offload their booty in places like Hoorn, Enkhuizen en Medemblik. These places still show the richness of the East Indies traders who built their warehouses, shops and estates there. Many of those old buildings are still standing today or have been carefully restored or rebuilt.
The harbours were also used for fisheries who sailed the Zuiderzee and the North Sea with flat-bottom vessels called Tjalks and Botters. The flat bottoms of these boats allowed these ships to also navigate the extensive mudflats in these areas and therefore have instead of keels an adjustable board on each side, like centreboards but not in the middle, which function as keels depending on the way the ship is listing. Quite a number of these boats are still sailing here and others have been rebuilt or built from previous plans from combinations of old and new materials.
So, a lot of the old history can still be seen here, but conditions have changed a lot. A 32 kilometer dike now protects the old Zuiderzee, now called Ijsselmeer from storms and spring tides. Large ships can no longer enter the bay, but a canal from the North Sea to Amsterdam has ensured that Amsterdam has maintained its status of a world harbour. Regularly the tall ships get together there to revive the glory of yesterdays sailing in spectacular displays. The old VOC towns on the Ijsselmeer still do some fishing, mainly for eels and flat-fish, but the flat-bottom boats are now used for tourism by providing an impressive sight for onlookers or an old-fashioned sailing experience for people who like the smell of salt, rope and tar. About 40 percent of the old bay has now been reclaimed and a combination of causeways and dikes has created sheltered watersport, fishing and bathing areas.
We followed the old dike along the east side of the Ijsselmeer today and particularly had a good look at the harbours of Hoorn and Enkhuizen. This was not the first time we had been here, because in 1997 we had taken the kids to the Zuiderzee museum in Enhuizen where they wore the old tradional outfits and played traditional games like stiltwalking and hoops. From there we had sailed with them to Hoorn and saw a fleet of Tjalks sailing past. Now, there are even more of these ships and the harbours have grown to accommodate large fleets of contemporary yachts in their marinas as well.
We had a great day cycling the coast here along dikes with nicely tar-sealed cycleways and traditional cobblestone streets in beautiful weather, be it with some head-wind. For the record we biked 75 kilometers on this day.
Today we left Geuzenbuurt camping. There were a few fresh mole mounds near the tent and I suspect there was one running around thinking it might be able to party with Pai during the night! They are very elusive and the closest we have got to seeing one are the few that are dead along the cycle paths.
We continued along the coast in nice dry sunny weather. We turned inland when we had got to Opperdoes and crossed over more farming areas. The villages up here are very traditional and it is nice to ride through them. Often we stop for a coffee in the morning and have a wander around them. At Middenmeer we stopped for coffee and the village had been ‘bombed’ by knitters. All the lamp posts and other fixtures were covered in knitted panels. Even an orca statue had been dressed up. It was a colourful atmosphere right through the place.
The cafe we stopped at had been decorated with paintings all over it’s walls and ceilings and was across the road from an old tobacco factory built in 1878. The front of this building was quite impressive with it’s nice facade.
Part of the fresco on the roof of the cafe.
As we wandered around here we stopped outside a camping shop to photograph Pai inside a tent on display. It was just the right size for him!
Pai inside the tent we found that was just the right size for him!
By early afternoon we had reached Den Helder and preparing to cross over to the island of Texel. This is a small island famous for it’s sheep. The island is a very interesting place. We found many small communities with a couple of larger towns to support them with shops etc. We rode up the east side with a short diversion to Den Burg, the biggest town.
We found a nice farmers camping for the night just out of De Cocksdorp. They had cattle which are kept in a large barn all year round. The majority of their land is used to grow the grass and maize that is fed to the cattle twice a day and to have for camping guests. The island seems to be relying on agriculture and tourism for its economic support. It is a very popular camping area if prices are anything to go by. The larger camping grounds demanding over 30 euros for a tent site for the night.
We watched the sun go down in a blaze of colour before tucking into the sleeping bags.
We woke to a dry day but plenty of wind not from a very favorable direction! We first rode up to the very top of the island and looked at the lighthouse before turning south and starting back towards Amsterdam. The way back for us is down the east coast of the island which takes us through the dunes. These are very similar to what we have ridden through in Denmark.
It has been a nice change to have a bit of undulating land to ride through.
By the time we got to the ferry terminal for the return to the mainland the boat was just getting ready to leave – perfect timing. There was an amazing amount of cars waiting to board so people obviously go over quite a lot.
We met a couple from California who had hired bikes for a trip around similar to ours. They were doing it the opposite way.
We had a tough ride into the wind from Den Helder but once we turned to directly south it was a bit easier. We continued to ride through the dunes with stops along the way for coffee and lunch.
Every man and his dog was heading for the beach….
The sun has been out so much lately that there are many people out on their bikes enjoying the fine weather.
We are spending the night at a camping ground just south of St. Maartens. When we first enquired about cost for camping the price was 27 euros but we made it clear that would be too much for us. We decided to get a plate of chips at the snack bar before moving on and during the time we were getting into those the receptionist came over to say she could accommodate us for 17.85 euros if we wanted to stay. This is much more in line with what we expected so we are now going off to cook dinner and put the tent up!
Today has dawned a fine sunny day and we continue our travels along the south coast. Being a Saturday here it is quite busy with lots of people taking advantage of some predicted late summer weekend of hot temperatures.
We have taken a bit of a side path inland through Bergen and stumbled apon a village market. It has been set up in the middle of town around a ruined church. The original church was built around 1200 and attacked and ruined but several people have made attempts to restore various parts of it. At present it appears to have a front part with an altar and a house built into the rear which is now basically a museum and information kiosk. There are signs of romanesque architecture in the old parts that are still standing.
While wandering through the market we found the closest imitation of the norwegian Statoil buns! They were triangular buns with chocolate chips – not quite as good as the norwegian ones but good hunger busters!
Part of the ruined walls of the church in Bergen.
After leaving Bergen we continued south east to Alkmaar. This is an old town that thrived in the past on the cheese industry. In the center of the town is the old cheese auction house that on Fridays comes alive with a traditional cheese market in the cobbled square next to it. The building is beautiful and features wonderful pieces of art and sculptures. It was a busy place which has large numbers of terrace cafes that were well patronised.
The top part of the front of the cheese auction house that featured wonderful sculptural parts and paintings.
Street organ in the main street of Alkmaar. The town was a hive of activities.
After leaving Alkmaar we headed back out to the dunes via Egmond aan Zee. There the local historians had a display of an old fishing boat ‘Pinck’. It was a replica built from the original drawings of the boat that was wrecked not far from here. A big solid boat constructed by hand from Oak. Not far from the museum there was a sculpture of a rescue boat sitting in the dunes below the light house. A nice piece next to the cycle path. Along this coast of Holland there are many lighthouses and like Denmark, the seas have claimed many lives. We frequently come across the memorials to the rescue crews and there are still many locations where the coastal rescue services have their bases.
We continued through the dunes to Wijk aan Zee and found a small camping that is run by volunteers who are members of a cooperative style camping set up, called NIVO. When we arrived we were offered a cup of coffee and we sat and chatted about our travels etc. Eric was a fanatical aircraft buff and he had great pleasure in showing us the photos and application he had on his I Pad for following all the planes over Holland. We had a lot of fun with these people and enjoyed staying at their small camping area.
Today is another one out of the fine weather box – not a cloud in the sky!
We headed south out of Wijk aan Zee with the aim of crossing the North Sea Canal to Ijmuiden but when we reached the crossing point we needed to phone a ferry (water taxi) so we retraced our route back and went via the outskirts of Beverwijk to cross over at the locks. As we arrived there a cruise ship was just entering the locks on its way into Amsterdam. There were three locks side by side that catered for a variety of sizes of vessels so we had an interesting ride over all three.
Ijmuiden is where Holland has its great steel mills and cement works. They were working 24-7 and billow out copious quantities of white smoke which we could see from miles away. Around the northern side of the mills on the road to the beach are some steel sculptures in the dunes. On the return ride we found the cycle way that wove in and around these.
This is the bike parking area mid morning at a beach in Holland!
After crossing the locks we joined the crowds of people who were making their way to the beaches for the day. Riding through the dunes was very pleasant. We came across another herd of the Highland cattle they have in the parks here.
These dudes just kind of gate crashed our picnic! Scottish Highland Cattle are now often seen in many of the parks here.
Just before we got to Zandvoort we turned east towards Amsterdam and found our way through to Piet Heyn and Liesbeth’s summer house on the Nieuwemeer. Nieuwemeer is a large lake that borders the polder that Schiphol airport is built on. We had a catch up with them and then had a cruise around the lake on their boat. After we left the lake part we had a short cruise down the canal and passed quite a few house boats. The water ways were very busy with boats and people swimming. It was a lovely way to spend the late afternoon relaxing and then we returned to the Amsterdam house after we collected the keys.
Altogether we covered close to 400kms for this ‘warm down’ tour. Now its back to cleaning the gear again!