Heather and Gary in Europe - Spring 2014 travel blog

Our first look at the 'Anna Antal', our accommodations for the next...

Heather preparing for our first short ride from Spaarndam to Haarlem

King's Day celebrations in Haarlem

Saturday April 26 -- Dutch King's Day

Start of bicycle tour -- Amsterdam to Spaarndam by barge and cycle to Haarlem

We were up by 7:30, showered and left as soon as we were ready in an attempt to get across the city centre before it became too crowded. We walked to the trolley bus and took a number 3 for several blocks. Heather had picked up a map showing the special public transit routes for the King's Day and we next took a number 9 trolley which did not follow the route on the special map. The trolley diverted to drop everyone at the Metro station so they could get to the city centre more easily. We were taken a number of blocks back away from our destination, about half the distance we wanted to travel, so we had to walk the rest of the way.

We did, however, stop at a neat coffee shop called "Filter" en route and had a coffee, croissant and banana as well as purchasing a sandwich for our lunch later. The coffee shop was partnered with an Eco-hotel that looked very interesting. After the mid morning mini-breakfast, we continued our walk to the barge (Anna Antal) and dropped off our luggage around noon.

Since we were in good time, we walked back into the city amongst the revellers. We ate our lunch in a park beside the canal before heading back to the barge. Once on board, we were given room number 9: two single beds, a small closet with big shelves and a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower, as well as a few shelves for toiletries. The suitcases and as much luggage as possible lives under the bed. It was all very nice, clean and tidy. We were both quite impressed as it exceeded our expectations.

Our guide is Cees (pronounced Case); our captain is Jan, the cook Annamiek, and the young assistant cook and server is Silke. They are all very nice folks. There are 17 travellers, the two of us from Canada, four from France, two from Somerset in the UK and the other nine from the USA. Three of the folks from the USA arrived late due to missed connections in the USA, and joined later us in Haarlem.

The barge left Amsterdam shortly after 2:00 and sailed for two hours until we reached Spaarndam, where we were all given our bikes and helmets. We then took our first ride to test out our bikes. We were supposed to cycle only 15 kilometres, but had to detour around a couple of King's Day street closures en route to Haarlem. We stopped at a statue of the boy who supposedly put his finger in the dyke to save Holland from flooding. We learned that this, in fact, was an American story.

We finally reached our barge in Haarlem and bought ourselves a beer before dinner. We sat with the three latecomers and the guide for dinner. It was a lovely meal: mushroom soup, meatballs with bulgar, salad, cooked broccoli and zucchini, followed by fresh strawberries and a light yogurt.

After dinner a group of us went out with Cees for a walk around the town and he pointed out various buildings and points of interest to us. Back on the boat we had a hot drink and then headed to our cabin. It was a long day, but everything worked out very well.

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