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San Clemente Journal

Bikes, Barges and Tulips – Touring the Netherlands

Mar 28, 2023 10:09AM ● By Mary Colarik
by Mary Colarik

An invitation during the pandemic from my Tennis Serves Others charity board members to join them on a Netherlands Bike and Barge Trip in April 2022 piqued my curiosity. Although I had been to Amsterdam several years earlier, for a couple of days, I had missed many of the famous sites, like the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum. But I remembered strolling along the canals, through the famous Red-Light District and being intrigued by the waterways and the bikes everywhere taking precedent over cars and pedestrians alike. And while a Bike and Barge Trip in Holland was not on my Bucket List, I was happy to have an overseas adventure to look forward to in 2022. 

Brightly colored tulips in large pots on every street corner in Amsterdam at the height of tulip season in April.


Another perk of this excursion would be biking everyday outside in the fresh air, while touring the countryside filled with windmills, fields of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. I wouldn’t be struggling to find an exercise class or slogging away on a boring treadmill in a hotel gym. So 20-25 miles of biking daily while vacationing in a foreign country was a definite selling point for me. I put down my deposit and was ready to roll. 

There are several different bike touring companies throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Our group went with International BicycleTours, Inc., a company that specializes in several week-long Holland Tulip Bike and Barge trips each year. IBT also offers a few different trips every year in Italy, Germany, Paris and Belgium, plus Cape Cod. Additionally, IBT has a few slower paced trips in Northern Europe, “70 Plussers” for those 70, 80-plus (an occasional 90-year-old even joins these excursions). This week-long offering pedals at a slower pace, on flat land with shorter daily distances and more time spent cruising aboard the barge.

Our trip was April 8-16, a total of seven nights on the barge. Some of us arrived in Amsterdam early before boarding the barge to adjust to the time change and enjoy the sites of a city filled with history, bikes and kind locals. 

Working windmill in Schermehorn, North Holland.


Upon landing, after a quick breakfast at the hotel and a nap, our group headed out to tour the Anne Frank House. The upstairs living accommodations where Anne, her family and a couple of their friends hid for just over two years were cramped and tiny. Viewing and touring the “Secret Annex” in person made the gravity of WWII seem more real, especially trying to imagine what so many people had to endure in those horrible years. 

The next day we visited the two well-known museums, Van Gogh and Rijks, Van Gogh’s beautiful flower paintings were cheerful on a dreary day and the history of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to present day, including lots of artifacts and the paintings of the Dutch Masters, Rembrandt, Vermeer and more were on full display at Rijks. 

Meeting up with the rest of the group, we then boarded the barge. Our barge, The Fiep, originally known as the Anna Cornelia, was a cargo ship built in 1912, converted to a passenger vessel in 2001, and undergoing a complete renovation in 2013. Living on a barge for a week is a very different experience than a hotel or resort, the Ritz Carlton it is not. Compact living spaces with mostly shared rooms consisted of two small twin beds, a tiny cupboard and closet with a few spaces for personal items and a private bathroom. For those wanting more privacy two single cabins are available. A pleasant lounge area complete with snacks and drinks awaits guests after a long day of biking. After dinner this space is also available for board games, cards and chatting. Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and bottled water are charged individually on an honor system, tea and coffee drinks are available free of charge. Breakfast and dinner are served in a dining room on the lower level. A full breakfast buffet is available each morning and the chef prepared a delicious, themed dinner for us each night. Lunch was on our own in the villages where we pedaled each day. On warmer afternoons many of us enjoyed sitting outside on the sun deck relaxing after a day of biking, while taking in scenic views of homes and landscapes along the rivers.

The barge can host 22 participants per trip. If you can guarantee a group of at least 15 people you will have the barge and staff to yourselves for the week, which is super nice as our group of 21 decided to have theme nights, we enjoyed dressing for a pajama night, a white night and an orange night (honoring the Dutch Royal family).

Our itinerary kicked off with a non-biking day to a small museum village, de Zaanse Schans. The afternoon was very cold, but most of the time we were inside watching a demonstration by a klompenmaker (maker of wooden shoes). His workshop was separated from a large retail area filled with several styles and colors of wooden shoes, including a pair of sparkly white wooden wedding shoes.

That afternoon we settled into our rooms as the barge began its journey towards the province of Noord. We took turns getting fitted for our bikes for the week and bike riding safety tips were outlined that evening. 

Each day we rode along quiet bicycle paths leading to villages where we stopped for lunch and a bit of shopping, then back on the bikes journeying to the barge waiting for us each evening at a different destination. Our stops included a tour of a historical teeny tiny home, a private garden filled with tulips, and a working windmill. (I had no idea families lived inside windmills!)
We biked on a fabulous path, no cars allowed, through the dunes to the North Sea, where we spent an hour enjoying drinks at a glass enclosed bar. We not only biked past fields of flowers, but also saw gorgeous, well maintained country homes with sheep and chickens languishing in the yards along our routes. We spent an afternoon in the charming town of Gouda-so famous for its well-known cheeses. While in Gouda we toured St. John’s church where our tour guide informed us about the fabulous 400-year-old-stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes.

Spectacular bulbs in bloom in the famed Keukenhof Gardens.

 On Tutu Tuesday we donned tutus as we rode to the famed Kuekenhof. This magnificent park was a top highlight of our biking tour through Holland. We were awed by the seven million bulbs that are showcased throughout the park, April is the height of the flowering season for hyacinths, tulips and daffodils-all on full display. The beautifully landscaped park features ponds and fountains, flowering trees and pavilions with gift shops and spots where one can relax and get a bite to eat. Walking along the paths with vibrant flowers everywhere was incredible-every turn and view took in more beauty. Our two-hour visit was over much too soon.
However, that afternoon we were in for an unplanned, surprise stop. Our phenomenal guide, Theo, learned that most of us were tennis players as is he, so he arranged for us to stop at his brother’s tennis club to give us an opportunity to play a few games on clay courts. A great way to cap off a fabulous day.

The biking, sightseeing, charming villages, wonderful Dutch people and, of course, the flowers, truly made this “an experience of a lifetime,” as one of my traveling companions stated. Several of us decided that although not originally on any of our bucket lists, it became the bucket list trip we didn’t realize we needed until we experienced it firsthand. 

For complete details on upcoming Bike and Barge itineraries and costs, check out their website,