Amsterdam and Haarlem – canals, bridges and bicycles

Amsterdam and Haarlem – canals, bridges and bicycles

We spent a week in Amsterdam. During that time it again became evident we don’t like big cities, however joyful, pretty and original. Big cities never rest – they are filled with hoards of people, cars, and bicycles by day, and by night they’re still not quiet – the sounds may be muffled but there’s a constant hum that never ceases.

The Sixhaven Marina we were staying at provided a nice oasis in the big city. It’s surrounded by bushes and shrubs, small cottages and floating houses. For us it was a nice getaway after our visits to the busy, hectic city.

Amsterdam is full of boats and bicycles. The whole city has been built for boats and bicycles, and we soon noticed that it was pointless to try and venture deeper into the city by any other way of transport. So we launched our little rubber dinghy, and started our own expeditions into the endless canals. The traffic is busy even there, but we could still travel at our own speed, make stops whenever we felt like it, and observe to our heart’s content. 

And there was no end of things to observe: beautiful, old houses, neat house boats, bridges and tunnels, churches and palaces. And bicycles, bicycles everywhere! On the streets, on the bridges, on the numerous floating bicycle parking barges, trains and ferries… The very natural effect of all this was that we desperately wanted to have bicycles of our own! And to think of it, what could be a better place to buy a bicycle than Amsterdam, where there is a bike shop in every block!

We chose folding bikes, because we don’t have space on our boat for any other kind. We don’t really have space for anything at all, but we decided we would make room. On our very first bike ride, you see, we realized how the bicycles would change our lives forever! How much more we would get to see, how quick and simple and free it would be compared to walking or having to rely on buses.

Now that we were prepared for adventure the Dutch way, it was time to continue our journey from Amsterdam – the Dutch way, along canals. You can follow the Staande Mast (Standing Mast) route south along two alternative ways: either with the night convoy through the city, or in daytime through Haarlem further west. The two routes join on the lake Brassemermeer south of Amsterdam.

We chose to travel during the day, and headed therefore along the Nordzeekanaal towards Spaarndam and its highway bridge that only opens a few times a day. Our timing was perfect. Soon we were also through the Spaarndam lock, and continued towards the city of Haarlem. There are 10 opening bridges in Haarlem, and while meandering through the lovely looking town we were almost sorry we would not be staying there. It was dark by the time we were past the town, and approaching yet another opening bridge in the suburbs.

But the bridge wouldn’t open! Nobody answered our VHF calls, or any of the phone numbers we tried to find on the guide books or websites. We tried to tie off to a couple of waiting areas close to the bridge, but our keel got stuck in the mud before we were close enough. There was something really strange going on here!

Finally someone answered the phone at the Harbour Office in Haarlem, and we were told the bridge we were trying to get through was under renovation, and would be for the next two weeks! But why hadn’t anyone told us before? At the locks in Spaarndam, or at any of the 10 bridges we had passed, having had numerous radio conversations along the way? Why didn’t anyone wonder about a Finnish boat purposely making its way into a dead end? Perhaps it’s not in the Dutch nature to be curious about such things. Well, who knows – we made a u-turn and motored through a few bridges back to Haarlem, where we parked on the side of the canal and called it a day. We would get to see this pretty town, after all, and to ponder about our next move.

The next day was Saturday, and it was a market day. We walked along the narrow, winding streets to the market place, Grote Markt. It was wonderfully full of delicacies, and no doubt other things – but we always seem to end up in the fish, meat, cheese and bread stalls, whatever the country. It wasn’t cheap, but we couldn’t resist buying at least a few different items.

A day’s visit was enough for a very pleasant impression of the town. For us, Haarlem definitely belongs in the ”right size of town” category – it was full of life and bustle, but not crowded, small enough to walk through at a leisurely speed, and full of old houses, beautiful details, views of the canal, churches and windmills. We had no regrets about the dead end trip!

2 thoughts on “Amsterdam and Haarlem – canals, bridges and bicycles

  1. Yes, it was wonderful! Besides, we gained so much experience docking our boat, as we went through some 10 locks and 70 bridges, and had to stop frequently before we could pass!

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