Netherlands Tour - August 25 - 31, 2001

Spiders, Dikes and a Potato Wagon

Having been on two previous Zephyr skate tours I have some idea what to expect but with all adventure holidays unusual things happen and this one was to be no exception. With my previous tours I’d traveled to other countries to both skate and see the area, the only difference here was I was traveling to the other side of my own country - well my adopted one for the last three years.

 Day One Saturday 25 August

Having stayed with a friend overnight in Amsterdam, I arrived at the meeting point about 45 minutes before the arranged time. Wearing a Zephyr T-shirt always has the advantage of finding other skaters in the group easy. Straight away a stranger with a skate bag approached me. Tim had just arrived from California that morning. The two of us then went to find some food before meeting the rest of the group.

Returning to the Owl Hotel, we found a smallish group of people standing around a few suitcases and skate bags, this was the rest of our group. I spotted the two people I already knew, Kris and Andrea, our two guides. After packing the van we left for Hoorn and our first skate.

Hoorn is a typical Dutch town on the west coast of the Makenmeer. It has an old centre with a fascinating one-way system and cobbled streets. Once we’d found the approximate area to start, we padded up ready to skate. Heading out of town we experienced the first of the cobbled streets that would be with us on and off all week. On the top of the dike, we were on a flat smooth path with views across the Makenmeer. The weather was hot and many Dutch people had taken to the small beaches along the shore to cool off. After skating the 17 km along the dike path we too were very hot. The support van appeared just at the right moment, skates were deposited and several skaters were seen heading out into the lake to join the locals.

A short van ride after the swim, we arrived in Enkhuizen, a small historic port on the IJsselmeer. A small hotel in the centre of town was our rest place for the first two nights. Being so hot and humid had caused the local spider community to rapidly multiple and head towards our guides’ room (with some assistance from Pam and Jeanette).

Day Two Sunday 26 August
After a night of listening to the pleasant melody of the two sets of church bells we were ready for our first skills clinical. The first thing to learn was how to heel push as part one of a three part guide to learning a good fitness skate stroke.

Once the basics of the heel push had been practiced it was out onto the open road, well another quiet and flat dike path. Before leaving town though we found that we were not the only skaters in The Netherlands to wear helmets, as 60 road skaters passed us.

The path that was described as good was in fact even better having just been resurfaced with smooth asphalt. Skating along this excellent path, we had a lesson in not putting your wheels on in the middle of the night before getting a flight. Jef suddenly went down. After checking there was no serious injury, we tried to find what had happened, only to discover one of his wheels had fallen out of the frame. A quick phone call to Andrea in the support van soon had a screw ready for Jef just a few miles up the road.

Lunch stop for today was Medemblik, fries and mayo was to become a favourite of this tour. The return skate took a slightly different route through small woods. Here we passed a dog hunting competition. The dogs had to find a pigeon in a large field. If the pigeon was alive or dead we didn’t find out

Back in Enkhuizen, a walking tour of the historic town had been arranged. We were taught all about the different building along with some of the people who lived there. We also learned that Dutch weather can be very changeable and got wet in the beginnings of a large thunderstorm. This resulted in the use of hand dryers in the restaurant where we were eating that night to dry shirts and hair. Desimir’s is a Balkan restaurant where the owner prided himself in presenting us with two enormous plates of meat, fish and vegetables. Not even our resident garbage cans could finish this one.

Day Three Monday 27 August
Monday saw our first hotel change. With our small group all travelling light packing the van took no time. The skaters were then off to catch the ferry across the IJsselmeer to Stavoren in Friesland.

Blisters took their first and only victim of the tour. Jef decided to take to a bicycle for the next few days. This would lead to a strange sight on the paths of Friseland, a cyclist with a helmet. This is such an unusual occurrence that the strange looks Jef got were more like as if ET had landed.

In Stavoren we also meet Willem. He lives in Friesland and at 78 years has completed nine Elfstedentocht (eleven cities tour) races, he needs just one more for the absolute record. The race occurs only when the canals and lakes freeze enough to allow ice skating between the eleven cities of Friesland. The race starts at 5:30 am and you must complete the 200 km (120 miles) before midnight.

Just outside Stavoren we had skills clinic no2, the glide. Also at this clinic Pam was shown the double push technical. Then in the following 3 km she managed to do it herself. Thus Andrea’s new book will be titled ‘The double push in 3km or less’. 

The skate to Hindeloopen was again along the dike road, but this time it allowed some people to practice their dike skating, the only real type of hill skating in The Netherlands. Skating headlong into the wind (Force 4-5) brought up one question, to draft or not to draft. Arriving in Hindeloopen we visited the skating museum, containing a very old pair of home made inline skates, a frozen toe someone had lost in an Elfstedentocht and a display about Willem and his nine races.

The skate from Hindeloopen to Workum then onto Bolsward was made up of some of the best paths but here also the wind was in the wrong direction making this some of the best skating and worst skating of the tour. Arriving in Bolsward we found the support van and gladly took a lift into Sneek and our hotel for the next two nights.

Day 4 Tuesday 28 August
Following Jef’s experiences on a bike, Matt also decided that today was a good day to rest the feet and give the Dutch an even more unusual slight, two people on bikes with helmets.

After the third and last clinic (the recovery), we headed out of Sneek towards Jirnsum soon to find the best path of the whole tour. For 7 km we had flat, smooth concrete slabs to skate on. We would find these again during the rest of the tour but not for such a long distance. Everyone started to stretch out and practice their new improved fitness strokes and double push. With the extra speed everyone had we soon came to the end of the concrete. Soon we arrived in Raerd to find Kris with the van and a superb picnic lunch.

We continued towards Wiuwert and a visit to the Mummies in the local church. Four bodies in the crypt have not decayed over the years despite not being embalmed. The reason for this is not known but it gave a good discussion point for the group.

Tim decided here to take a short train trip to Groningen, a major city in to the east, where he found there was a large festival taking place. The skate back to Sneek from Wiuwert was on good paths alongside the main road. Here Pam’s double push really started to come together but with a few problems, skating too fast to feel comfortable and using previously unknown muscles that where not expecting to be used. The excellent hot chocolate at the Mexican restaurant was not available as the opening times had been changed to 5 pm, what previous tours had done we can only guess.

Arriving back in Sneek early gave a good opportunity to put our feet up and have a beer. Some shopping for presents was also possible, along with a mid afternoon snack of fries. The meal that night was in an Indonesian restaurant, where again we were presented with a large amount of excellent food.

Day 5 Wednesday 29 August

We were off again changing hotels. Once the van was packed, we left Sneek on skates towards Franeker. On passing through Kubaard, a small village, a bridge was beginning resurfaced, with cobbles of course. Jack up ahead had decided to go around via the diversion, others of us decided just to walk through, which was probably the best of the two choices as Jack had found even worse cobbles. In the same village, a man and girl were training Friesen horses to pull a carriage. He was particularly interested in us, as he traded a lot of the horses to America. On leaving the village we found that we were being chased by the carriage. As skaters do, we started to go faster thinking he wanted to race, but finally when we stopped he actually just wanted to give us his business card. 

Today was the first of two days of long routes. Myself, Andrea and Willem left the rest of the group at Tzummarum and headed north east. Just after St Jacobiparochie we came to a sudden stop, the road had been recently resurfaced with loose gravel. Skating was impossible. Just at that moment a farmer driving a potato wagon came around the corner. After a short discussion in pigeon Dutch and English we got a lift on the back of the wagon. The problem was how to get up. Pushing up Andrea was straight forward, then with some assistance I got up to the 5-foot high deck. Then between Andrea and I, we manage to pull Willem up. Zephyr tours always give new experiences, even for a 78 year old. After 3 km the gravel ended and the farmer stopped for us to jump off (bit easier then getting on). A big thank you to this unknown Friesen potato farmer.

After this experience we were very glad to see Kris in the van a few kilometres later. This allowed us to refuel and get a lift to Sexbierum; yes this does translate to what you think it does. A further 10 km and an interesting cobbled downhill, which was the ultimate foot and leg massage, we arrived in Harlingen and our final hotel.

After the exertion of the long route, pannenkoek (pancakes) and proefritjes (small dessert pancakes) were gladly welcome, particularly served with excessive amounts of slagroom (real whipped cream). Finally a trip to see dike boy finished the day off.

Day 6 Thursday 30 August

We started the day with a trip to the church directly behind the hotel. The warden is married to the hotel manager. Thursday also saw Jef back on his skates, although wisely choosing to start after the cobbles of Harlingen. A small glass blower in Exmoora provides another great shopping opportunity, but make sure the van is there to carry the glass back. A further stop is made at the cheese factory where you can sample the different types of Gouda cheese. Unfortunately Gouda is where I work so it was a good opportunity to feed some horses and take a break.

The final path into Makkum is an excellent stretch for drafting. Willem and Andrea passed us all with little effect, then shortly afterwards I heard Jef said ‘Hold your head a bit higher to cut the wind out’, I found myself at the front.

After a lunch of fries, Matt, Kris and I continued on the long route back to Harlingen. During which we did the tours good deed. A goat had got its head stuck through a fence trying to get at some food people had thrown away. With a combined effect from Kris and Matt pulling the wires and pushing the goat, we got it free.

Our final meal was at the sister hotel in Bolsward. Food was great, particularly the mustard soup with Brie, although arriving there late did not go down well, sorry.

Day 7 Friday 31 August

Our last day started with the intention to skate but cloud filled skies persuaded us that shopping and sightseeing was a better option. At breakfast we said goodbye to Willem and wished him well for his next Elfstedentoch. The rest of us left for Amsterdam at midday. A trip across the Afsluitdijk (North Sea closure dike) completed our round tour of the IJseelmeer.

In Amsterdam we went our separate ways but most of us met again at 7:30 at the Owl Hotel already to join in the Friday Night Skate through the city streets. The skate started with a short skate through Vondel Park then off through the streets of Amsterdam. Calling at the Olympia stadium, across the Amstel, past the Heineken Brewery and after two hours finally passing through the middle of the Rijksmuseum. Only one slight fall in our group but I think this was just so Pam could say that she had used her 6 Dollar pads bought at a children’s store that morning in Harlingen. The week’s practice of going over cobbles and railroads made this an excellent Friday Night Skate.

After a week of excellent weather, good skating and great company its time for a final goodbye to the group. Although a small tour it was one of the best with lots of friends made. Hope to see you all again soon on the road somewhere.


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