Day 1 Enkhuizen to Hoorn and Back 45.8 km
It all started rather poorly. Stuck in the center of a 5-across seating section on a completely full MD11, I endured our wait on the ground in Detroit while the valiant maintenance crew repaired the thrust reverser on engine #3. Don't want to try to fly backwards across the Atlantic. The pilot, well schooled in Northwest's new-found, keep-the-passengers-informed religion, kept us up-to-date on the progress. "I expect we'll be ready in about 20 more minutes" every 15 minutes for close to 2 hours. We finally pushed back, launched out of US airspace and spent 7 hours and 3 minutes getting to Schiphol. The computer predicted our arrival time to the minute!
Plied with free international booze, I slept for about 2 hours and read the rest of the time. (Memoirs of a Geisha, a must read!) The best part of the video entertainment was the little plane that kept moving slowly across the Atlantic toward Europe.
Once we arrived at Schiphol, my fortunes changed. Everything went perfectly - a pattern to be reversed on the homeward leg 10 days hence. Schiphol is a combination airport, train station and lively shopping mall. They have a great innovation, an escalator-like moving ramp that allowed easy movement of (free) luggage carts, strollers and the like between floors. No long lines at the elevator. U. S. airports should take notes.
I picked up some Guilders at an ATM (AutoGeld) and caught the KLM hotel shuttle into a rainy Amsterdam. A bell man at the Golden Tulip went out of his way to give me directions to the Owl Hotel where I found Liz and Allan Wright, the owner of Zephyr Inline Tours and chief guide, lingering over breakfast. Liz and Allan were to guide us on a seven day inline skating tour of the Netherlands, North Holland and Freisland to be specific. I was along for the ride as a customer.
After finalizing some plans, Liz and I set off to pick up the large Peugeot van that would be our mother ship for the tour. Our first adventure was a tram ride. We got our instructions from the hotel desk clerk, a blond beauty, whom we watched deftly handle business in Dutch, English, German and Spanish. She probably spoke French, too. She assured us that we did not need correct change. She was right - the train had a conductor who sold tickets and made change. How civilized.
Liz piloted the van expertly through the narrow city streets and back out to Schiphol, where we picked up Andrea and Mara, a charming Swiss couple - the only non-Americans on the tour. We parked the van in a no-parking, luggage-unloading area at the airport. Amazingly, when we returned 45 minutes later, the van was where we left it. No cops (Polizie), no ticket. This is a laid-back country!
Back at the Owl, we met the rest of the group. Three indoor racers from the Boston area, Kathy, Steve and Kenny; a couple from the Twin Cities, Dick and Carole; Chester all the way from Hawaii; and Nick from Virginia. We piled into the huge tour bus that showed up in place of the vintage bus Allan had arranged. We later learned that the driver couldn't get the vintage bus started. No problem right? Wrong. The replacement bus was just too big for the back streets leading away from the Owl. We spent 20 minutes maneuvering just to go the wrong way up a one-way street. In most American cities, we would have been cursed and maybe shot at. In A'dam, we were cheerfully guided by an attractive woman with a low cut top who just happened by. Watching her was a pleasant diversion while we inched (centimetered?) forward and back. Scattering cars on the one-way street, we finally made it to a main avenue and were on our way to our first destination.
There are two distinguishing geographic features to The Netherlands: water, and the lack of any other distinguishing geographic features. This place is flat. It makes Kansas look like the Alps! We did find one real hill on our last full day of skating, but otherwise the highest point around was the top of the nearest dike. It is also very green, especially compared to our summertime California. Green is good for several things, like cows and sheep and goats. We saw lots of them during the tour. Often very close up. And horses, too. They were all out to get Kathy.
It rained on and off during the drive to Enkhuizen - and during the rest of the week. There was lots of green and lots of water to see on the way.
Enkhuizen is a tidy, quaint port city on the coast of North Holland. It is on the Ijsselmeer, the body of water that was the Zuider Zee (South Sea) before the great dike was built isolating it from the Atlantic. Enkhuizen also is the home of the Zuider Zee museum, a living community that recreates life on the Zuider Zee in the last century. By the way, one of the important things to learn about Dutch is that a "j" is pronounced like our "y" or a long "i". This insight makes the meaning of a lot of Dutch words more obvious - like djk and zijn (sign). Ijsselmeer is pronounced something like Ice-sel-mare. Meer is Dutch for lake and Ijssel is the river that feeds it.
Not sure about the rain, we checked into the hotel and agreed to meet later to decide on skating. This is when I got my first (of many) reminders that The Netherlands has the steepest stairs of anywhere I've been in the world. Skiers would call these double-black diamond stairs. Not only are they steep, but most of them also curve. They make hauling bags to the 3rd floor a real challenge. Especially after a long day of skating.
When we met later, it was obvious that everyone wanted to skate despite the conditions. Half the crew already had their skates on and the rest had them in-hand. The proliferation of serious racing skates was a bit disconcerting. While I consider myself a pretty strong skater, I'm not a racer and I've never been on 5-wheel skates. This was the fitness tour. Liz and I had discussed this. I had decided I'd rather bring up the rear of a fast group than wait for a slow one. Slow being anyone who can't keep up with me, I can get rather boorish if I have to stand around too much. I learned that standing around was not to be a problem with this group.
Stepping on to the pavement, we learned lesson one on skating in The Netherlands. In almost every town and small city, the streets are perversely paved with brick, sometimes reasonably smooth, but often quite rough. Skating on the bricks can be challenging. Watching ten lurching skaters was rather entertaining for the locals, I'm sure. Clearing the bricks, we followed a series of trails out of town and onto the dike leading to Hoorn.
We had regrouped at the start of the dike road, but we were soon to learn what the peeking order of the group was. As we headed south, the pace steadily increased. The road, barely a lane wide was open to cars. Our mantra became "Car up," "Car back," "Bikes up," etc. This slowed the speedsters down, giving me much needed breaks. Slowly people dropped of the pace line and headed back. With the pack down to the Boston crew, Dick , Allan and me, I hung on as well as I could. The pace stayed fast as the five-wheelers traded leads. Finally, my back just would not let me hold the tuck any longer. I dropped off the south-bound train and head north. I later learned that Dick was the only one to make it all the way to Hoorn.
I found Liz back at the hotel. After cleaning up, we took a little walking tour of Enkhuizen. The harbor was full of colorful, antique sailing and fishing boats. With polished wood and colorful paint, the Dutch appeared to take great pride in these classics. We saw many more in the canal and port cities we visited.
Dutch architecture is quite spare compared to other European counties. The churches are generally plain. Older public buildings, except for their classic stepped roofs, were colorful but generally unremarkable. The most prominent feature in almost every town was the bell tower which rang every 15 minutes. Everything looked quaint and tidy and well-kept.
We wandered into a cheese shop and made a discovery. The Dutch are cheese lovers. In my previous experience, Dutch cheese (kass) came in two types, Edam and Gouda. They both came encased in wax, red or yellow, and were pretty mild. Nothing like the smelly, gooey, moldy French cheese that set the standard for real cheese lovers. In the shop, we found a whole variety of Dutch cheese we had never known about. There were big wheels and smaller rounds from all over the country. We found flavored cheese, speckled with cumin or other spices, and learned the difference between jong (young) and oude (aged) cheese. The jong kass was smooth, nutty and mild, the classic Dutch cheese. The oude kass was harder and sharper. It had a more complex flavor. We left with a chunk of 3 year-old farmer's cheese and a bottle of Spanish wine for our afternoon snacks. Delicious. It reminded me of Parmesan. Farmer's cheese is made right there on the farm with milk straight from the cows, rather than in a factory with trucked-in milk. The price was great, too.
We found a sports shop that sold skates. They stocked Bauer and Nike. Ironic that I had to go the Europe to see my first pair of Nike skates.
Our group always had dinner together, usually in the hotel dining room. It was a nice, communal experience where we swapped the daily skating stories and got to know the non-skating side of our fellow travelers. Good food, too. Tonight was ham and melon salad, chicken and veggies, and watermelon and fruit salad for dessert.
With 2 hours sleep in the past 36, I faded quickly after dinner and had no problem sleeping through the quarter-hourly bells.
See all our Holland Pictures
Learn more about Zephyr Inline Tours.
Read Day 2.