If you ever go across the sea to Ireland

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe at the closing of your day;
You will sit and watch the moonrise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay

These lyrics were recorded by Bing Crosby back in 1947.

I knew them from hearing my father singing them when I was a child. They always invoked a sense of having some connection with Ireland. This sense was underscored when my youngest daughter was born on St Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a great thing to do, then, to meet up in Galway on St Patrick’s Day 2020 to celebrate her 30th birthday.

She and her husband arranged their own travel, taking in the UK: London, Midlands, York, Edinburgh, Highlands and Skye, Belfast etc. We planned to meet up in Galway for shared fun in the Latin Quarter on St Patrick’s Day.

We decided to build on our home exchange experience from last year to arrange an exchange with a couple from Ireland. Luckily, we found a couple who were willing to exchange with us for 4 weeks in March 2020.

We were off to Roscommon County: pretty much dead centre in the middle of the island of Ireland.

Athlone; nearby, has a craft brewery called Dead Centre and their beer is available in the middle bar at JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon town.

There’s a lot of value in being centrally located as we tended to go on road trips that radiated out from Roscommon in different directions. Rain was rarely far away and, with generally chilly temperatures it was comfortable to enjoy lots of drives through cute villages, around larger centres and past lots of ruins.

We found Ballina, the Salmon Capital of Ireland and enjoyed wandering along the streets in Sligo where it was easy to imagine a very vibrant culture and night economy.

Sligo where:

Alongside gastro pubs and bars, the stream tumbles past with the rushing urgency of some late season thawing of the blobs of snow still dusted across the heights near the town.

It seems that, with the flooding of the Shannon that we’d seen along the way, there seems to be an even wider acceptance of the variations that are appearing within our ‘usual’ weather and seasonal patterns. 

No chance this time to see Sligo after dark but it has the look of a place where you’d be likely to catch some very fine fiddling and fun, along with the potential for melancholy.

It does look like Mullaneys is the place to go for fancy threads.

(Currently closed at the time of writing March 2020 due to Covid 19)

From Twitter: John Mullaney @mullbros

Despite trading continuously for over 110 years, we have taken this decision in the best interest of public health and safety of our staff, but we wish to advise our customers that we are closed until further notice. 

Another rainy day and the chance to head to the South West and check out Galway. 

A reconnaissance in Galway didn’t provide the chance to watch the ‘moon rise over Claddagh’ but did almost present the vision of a moon over Galway Bay when some young guy; with the look of a losing bet.. raced down the windswept beach in his boxers and jumped into the rough chop of the wind driven waves.

We found the carpark for our intended destination on St Patricks Day and had a quick look around the end of the Latin Quarter. It looked like it should be great fun to spend a few days here. Our intent was then to return the car at Dublin Airport before flying to CDG Paris; staying overnight in an AirBnB near La Defense before five days in the apartment of another home exchanger.

Local radio explained that, while recent cases of Covid 19 were appearing in Ireland there was no immediate plan to curtail St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Within days, the parades were banned and, days after, the pubs themselves closed indefinitely. 

We had been in contact with another of our home exchange partners in Paris to see how they were feeling about the situation there. They were still planning to go skiing somewhere in the mountains toward Italy. It still sounded as though it was still reasonable to continue on the Paris after our time in Ireland.

In the warmth of our log fire fuelled homeliness of our home in Roscommon, we booked our flights to Paris, arranged AirBnB etc.







We decided that while we are in North Holland it would be a great opportunity to visit Berlin.  We’ve heard that Berlin has some interesting things happening and we decided to see for ourselves.

We used our Trainline app to buy two return tickets to Berlin leaving Amsterdam at 7.00am on a Wednesday morning.  This meant that we had to be up and get ourselves to Hoorn station to catch the 6.10am train. 

Using our traditional black ‘Dutch bike,’ a Cortina with front carry rack, we were able to pedal to Hoorn station with about 20 kg of luggage in one big spinner suitcase on the front rack and a few bits and pieces in a backpack.



With not many people about at 5.30 or so we easily made the 6.10am train and headed for Amsterdam Centraal and then onto a German train to make the six hour journey East to Berlin.  The train crew changed over when we crossed the German border and German police came through the train checking people over; looking to see what type of luggage they were carrying and generally keeping an eye on things.

As we passed two Volkswagen factories we were soon in the former East Germany which totally surrounded the enclave of West Berlin following the carving up of the country and the city at the end of the second world war.  

Our train arrived at Berlin Spandau and we needed to change trains for the short remainder of the journey to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof which turned out to be a huge station resembling a large Westfield shopping centre with trainlines running through it at about 3 different levels.  It was then just a matter of negotiating a number of escalators to join the Eastbound S Bahn for two stops to Hackerscher Markt, where a colleague of our Berlin home exchange host met us with keys and directions to access our apartment for our stay.

As with most European cities, it’s worth doing a bit of online research before visiting about their public transport ticketing system, what the machines on the station will sell you etc.  It’s also worth having a try at a machine where there is not a growing queue of locals in a hurry who get frustrated by your ineptitude at the machine; it lowers the pressure. Look for a little language icon somewhere to select your preferred language. In Berlin, you can buy a 24 hour ticket for 7 Euros usable in zones A and B.  This was a great option for us as a single journey ticket costs 2,80 Euro.

As members of a Home Exchange website we have accrued a number of guest points throughout our membership and were able to use some of these to have a non-simultaneous exchange to Berlin, where we ‘pay’ for the nights using points. This turned out to be an excellent way to get a very authentic experience in living in Berlin for a few days. The opportunities to learn more about each other by looking at the way that others organise the same types of things that we all like: frequent public transport, safe fast wifi, shared beliefs about how a fundamentally simple objective can be achieved: just ‘Don’t be a dickhead.”

The apartment turned out to be excellent: spacious, clean and well appointed. In addition, it was very near to a range of transport options and bars, restaurants etc.  Being just near Alexanderplatz, it also meant that from many places in Berlin we were able to check our bearings by looking for the radio tower high in the sky.

Our first night saw us finding a brewpub nearby for a lovely dinner, where a Danish family told us how an Australian; Mary, had revitalised the Royal house in Denmark; working hard for charities and in service of organisations and adding value to having a royal family. 


After dinner we headed to a nearby club, the B Flat Acoustic Music and Jazz club which holds a weekly jam session on Wednesday nights.  The talent on show was amazing, with excellent soloists across a range of instruments; from double bass to a melodophone; (one of those little piano thingies that they blow into and play).  As you can see from the picture, the composition of the band on stage was very fluid, with a variety of musos sitting in on different configurations. You can see from this picture taken by Lynette that there were at least three saxophonists on stage at some stage, and a parade of drummers and bassists, guitarists and keys players; and a strong and acoustically acrobatic female vocal..all excellent. We had a great time being entertained and then had a walk of about 100 metres to get home.  One of the great assets of these bars is the table service from really happy and helpful servers. Great music, easy access to great service, cool atmosphere and a vast array of talent on show. A great start to our trip indeed!

Thursday October 3 was a holiday in celebration of the re-unification of Germany following the dismantling of the Berlin wall and the inclusion of the East German provinces within the Federal Republic.  It seems that this holiday is one which not everybody gets involved with.  We had rented bikes to explore the city and found that we weren’t able to cycle in certain areas as a huge police riot squad presence had locked down areas fearing conflict between hard right activists and other citizen’s groups.  We ended up abandoning our riding aspirations and headed home getting ready to travel to the Lido, a live music venue in Kreuzberg where we had bought tickets to see the support act play, Cub Sport, a band from Brisbane who were touring supporting Californian band Local Natives.

We set off  to find the gig and also found a fabulous vegan restaurant down a side street: Maria  Now full of some excellent food and a very tasty BRLO locally brewed IPA we wandered back around the corner to the gig, checking out the range of restaurants buzzing along the street.

The Lido is a great venue in a former cinema.  







The size and sound were excellent with a good lighting rig and nice ambience.  A large marquee has been erected beside the main room and this provided a chill out area with another bar and cloakroom.  As we purchased our drinks, we were charged an extra euro as a deposit on each glass.  We were given a token which could be redeemed when we wanted to leave.  In between times, if wanting another drink, it was a matter of returning the glass to the bar rather than having to pay out another Euro deposit.  This system worked really well and meant that the venue didn’t need glassies to pick up empties and there were then no glasses hanging around  to become things which could get broken or become dangerous in a crowd system.  People seemed to easily deal with doing this and the drink prices were very reasonable. 

Cub Sport played a wonderful set with the singer Tim’s vocal soaring above the rest of the music on many occasions as they cranked out some very powerful melodic pop.  Local Natives took over from where they had left off and also delivered a powerful set.

We headed home via the subway and S Bahn, meeting a young Russian guy from Moscow along the way who had flown to Berlin specifically to see Local Natives.  He talked to us about the fact that public displays of affection amongst gay men were not seen in Moscow.  He was aware  of our recent changes to marriage laws in Australia and it was fascinating to spend some time talking to him as he tagged along with us as we were heading for the same destination at Alexanderplatz.

The next day, we set off to the East Side Gallery, a section of the former Berlin wall which is covered in some very poignant graffiti.  This section of the wall ran along the East bank of the river, with the ‘death zone’ clear: that section between an outer and an inner wall where a person could be shot.  

The Berlin wall had been erected suddenly by East Germany in 1961.  For a range of reasons, including a drain of skilled and educated people from the east to the west via West Berlin, the wall was erected to stem this loss of resource to East Germany.  It was also described, from the East, as a protective barrier against fascist forces. Huge numbers of militia were deployed to seal the border while construction teams erected the wall: 3.6 metres high, with a rounded pipe top and an inner wall constructed at a distance of about eighty or so metres.  The area in between  was an area in which guards would shoot to kill. The wall ran for around 160 kilometres right around West Berlin with only a limited number of designated road, river and rail corridors available to access West Berlin. These days, keen cyclists can complete the Mauerweg Trail, cycling the entire 160 km.

One very sad piece of graffiti mourned 136 people who had been killed trying to cross over.

The rain settled to a steady drizzle as we wandered along the wall wondering how it must have felt: to have suddenly been cut off from friends and family; to be able to see other Berliners across the wall yet be prevented from meeting with them in person.

As a young child not long into school, I can recall the stories on the news about the Berlin Wall, and the visit by President Kennedy to Berlin following incidents like the airlift which broke a Soviet blockade of West Germany.  It was very surreal to be seeking these remnants of what was, for a young kid from Wongo Creek, a reality far away.

As the rain continued, we found a rooftop bar where we could get a coffee and look out across the river to the former West Berlin section. Talking to the barista, it turned out that he was born in 1990, so saw himself as the first of the new generations who were living without the divisions. We mused about the hope for the future and yet there seems to be much left hanging in the consciousnesses within Berlin, where  traffic lights have different icons for the green and red walk and stop man in the former East Berlin. The Ampelmannchen.






As we took in the amount of new buildings on this side of the river; part of the push for investment and building in the former East it is hard not to think about the fact that this was a place where so much must remain difficult for many people, yet their city provides a wonderful vibe and an energy different from many other cities.  

In a message of some poignancy the sound system in the bar seemed to rise in volume a little as a Cat Stevens track came on.  Recalling that I first heard this back in the very late sixties, or early seventies, it was possible to muse about the song itself:

Peace train sounding louder; everyone ride on the peace train…..

On Saturday, we walked up the Western side of the river and followed a curved section of road where a lovely green sunken garden followed what we found out later was a section of the Luisenstadt Canal which had been filled in back in the 1930s.

 It had then; from 1961 to 1989 looked like this, as the wall and its death zone carved a scar through the former greenery and patrols and barriers prevented the crossing from one side to the other.

Today, as we start away from the river and follow the curve, coming up from the river toward the area where this stark first picture above was taken, it looks like this. The wall basically followed that line of trees…







At Engelbecken Park, where the pond provides reflections and a passivity, as we paused to look back down the path of where this picture had been taken, a rainbow appeared above the zone of connection in what is now a green space again.  

Despite the ongoing tensions between beliefs and groups evident today, we can only hope that the rainbow does indeed represent a vision of hope for the future.

We have walked far today yet remain glad that we have not had to walk in the shoes of those who have been torn between the lotteries of life existence.

Berlin: quirky, contrasts, vibrancy and much to reflect on.  We’ll be back for more.

And; now: One of the random effects when importing posts from another blog.  These pictures are from Nantes in France. One of our stops following our Paris to Epernay Bike and Barge trip in 2017.


no images were found

The Peace Palace journey: Are we there yet?

Today we cycled to the station with the plan of visiting Den Haag; or as we’ve heard it for years: The Hague. A quick visit to the big yellow machine to top up the credit on the chip card and onto the train; an Intercity from Enkhuizen, taking us to Amsterdam Sloterdijk where we’ll change to a train to Den Haag. You need to have at least 20 Euros credit on your chip card before the barriers at a train station will let you enter. The amount is less for buses and trams.  As we only have “Anonymous” chip cards, we can’t set them up to auto top up like our Opal cards at homes.  

On arrival at Den Haag Centraal, we decide to take a tram toward some of the listed ‘sights’ and ‘sites’ to see.

Tap on; tap off and we’re near to a speciality coffee cafe where it’s possible to order a Long Black. Using the coffee stop to plot a path using Google Maps and we’re soon exploring the garden at the back of the working Royal Palace.

Onward again and we find ourselves outside what is listed as the most photographed site in The Hague: the Peace Palace.

This beautiful building houses a number of functions related to international Peace: the International Court of Justice and others. Near the gate, stones surrounding the grass bear the words for ‘Peace’ in languages from around the globe.

There is a fairytale view of the possibility of peace embodied in the gravitas of the building’s placement within its surrounding context.

A black car pulls up to the two orange traffic cones before the gates.  The security man uses a mirror on a small trolley to check the underside of the vehicle. Having passed the scrutiny, the vehicle enters the first of two gates that separate the passage from out there into here.

And, if here is Peace, then how do we get there?

Beyond a wry grin at the irony of the need to screen a vehicle heading into the Peace Palace, there is, nonetheless, a relevant question as to why it is so difficult to achieve what so many would say, as humans living in communities, that they would like: Peace.

As a teen in the sixties, so much of the music many of us listened to called for peace; for an end to aggression and for the recognition that, in the words of Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, ‘The Times they are a’Changin.’

The Peace movement was not just about the Vietnam War and the use of the draft or conscription to provide soldiers to take part. It was a vision of hope; that by doing things differently we could create other possible futures. Hope that we could, instead of focus on difference, tap the deep well of commonality amongst humanity. Our archetypes live best in the context of the level of care and nurture for our young: in the general human predisposition to provide a better world. In an era of information availability, why can’t we use the human capacities we have to explore the abstract view: that of someone else. Empathy after all, costs little yet returns much.

Instead; today, the default is to a binary construct. We have leaders in prominent nations adopting a crash through strategy: you’re with me, or part of the *insert perjorative description here.* We see this aided by the rapid shifts that have taken place in the way that thoughts and ideas are quickly out there: disseminated into interconnected echo chambers of social media. Amplification of implication; trumpets for those bold enough to master the embouchure: influencers with panache or not.

Just what can we all agree is something to which we’d be willing to commit?

The simple piano notes created the palette, and the lyrics from John Lennon seemed to say it so well when he asked us to ‘Imagine’

No need for greed or hunger; and no religion too….

The Hague is certainly worth a visit if you happen to be in South Holland.




TAPT Beer Festival

So, in a wonderful serendipity, the TAPT Beer Festival happened to be taking place in beautiful Rembrandt Park, south west of the main city.

We set off by bike from our Hoorn home and leave our bikes at the station.  Half an hour later and we’re at Amsterdam Centraal.  Using both Rome2Rio and CityMapper  we’ve considered a range of transport possibilities and decide that the Number 17 tram will give us the best look at the parts of Amsterdam that we’re travelling through.  The trip goes seamlessly and soon we’re walking along to the park and seeing the festival site in the distance.

Despite that fact that there will end up being around a thousand or so people at the festival, there is very little traffic impact as just about everybody comes by bike!  The organisers have arranged lots of bike racks outside the venue and by the time we leave these are full with hundreds of bikes.  That’s a lot of cars, taxis or other transport which doesn’t need to add to traffic.

The festival has attracted a crowd where the major demographic seems to be about 25-40 – people simply enjoying the great weather and good beer choices.  The entry ticket was $10 Euro and we booked online through another site with a discount code which got us in the gate for 8 Euros each.  The entry price included a proper glass branded for the festival.  The glass was about the size of a middy and could be filled at any of the brewery stands for the consistent price of 3.90 with the only means of transaction by card.

There were some great beers available; some good music and the fun of a silent disco, held in the inflatable church provided by Jopen, a micro brewpub from Haarlem which is located in an old church.

All in all a great day!


Picture 1 of 13

Vaulted ceiling in the treasury chamber at the Palais des Papes, Avignon. This room was used to store the wealth of the papacy.


Wow! what a lovely city.

Checking out Haarlem was one of those ‘what do we want to do tomorrow?’ conversations and turned out to be a great discovery.  This is one of the huge benefits we’re finding of being in the same place for an extended period. We can move at our own pace and driven by our own motivation. So far that’s working really well.

We’re also loving the ease that comes with living in a cycling paradigm: why would you bother with one way streets, no parking etc etc when you can simply jump on your bike; ride flat, separated cycle paths to wherever you need to go; jump off, lock the back wheel and go and do your stuff.

So, from our home in Hoorn, we ride to the station.  Takes about 5-8 minutes. Chain both bikes together alongside around at least 500-1000 other bikes outside the station.

Check in with our chip cards. Get the Sprinter to Haarlem via Alkmaar, the historic battle site of Castricum and on South to Haarlem.  The Sprinter tends to be an all stations train: but it runs really quickly between stations 🙂 

Seems that there’s a fire in a tunnel ahead.  The conductor lady comes to find us as we spoke to her on the platform and she knows we’re foreign.  She tells us that the train has to terminate because of the fire and that we can instead go to Sloterdijk and then change etc.  She said: “I will make the announcement in Dutch but knew that you wouldn’t understand.’  How lovely is that?

Enjoy some pictures of wonderful Haarlem.

Stepping into a picture from the past

In the last week, as we’ve pedalled or walked along the harbour, we’ve seen comings and goings of a number of different boats and ships.  Canal and river cruisers, here from Cologne via inland waterways, tall ships with square and schooner rigs, traditional boats with heavy rigs and ‘ears’ that look like they can be lowered to increase the ability of the ship to hold against the wind’s efforts to knock sideways. That’s my theory anyways.

So much of meandering around Hoorn by bike or foot is like taking a step through the canvas into the bustle of the past;

Today, the only four masted sailing ship in Holland was in port as we wandered along to see a great movie at the Cinema in the old gaol. The sleek looking ‘Summertime‘ lay alongside; having just tied up not long before we happened along.

That got us looking for information about arrivals and departures in the port of Hoorn. A quick Google search and plenty of sites providing information about exactly which vessels are currently in the harbour; time of arrival etc.


There’s just so much accurate information available to us at the tap on a button or swipe of the finger; our fingers, or thumbs, typing at pace: accessing the information we seek.

Over four hundred years ago, in 1612, Dutch sailor Willem Schouten named a cape on a stormy and wind beaten island at the extreme of an archipelago off the end of a continent, Kaap Hoorn, in memory of Hoorn, in Holland.  Despite the fact that the Cape is now recognised as Cape Horn, the recognition of the experience of having rounded the Horn under sail, with howling winds and icy rigging, is still kept alive with a society here in Hoorn.

From here, back then, ships set sail for distant shores; on the other side of the world.  Dutch ships of the East India Company sought immense wealth by sourcing and then trading in vast quantities of spices and goods from the area we now regard as Indonesia.  In the city square here in Hoorn, the statue of Jan Pieterszoon  Coen glowers out across the square. The building of empires, or trade monopolies, or strategic positioning saw some amazing feats of navigation which indicates the potential value of such risk taking.

And, to what extent was there a sense of simply wanting to ‘find out’ about something or somewhere new?

Why do we still launch expeditions out into the eternal space that surrounds us?

How can we reconcile the dissonance of the wonder at the sheer commitment to be willing to sail a wooden ship to the opposite side of the planet with the longer term consequences of the building of colonial empires with its inherent exploitation of resources and imbalance of benefit between colonialist and traditional owner or custodian?

Can we imagine the courage required to literally sail off the edge of the known world: to places where giant serpents be: or where ships founder not on rocks but on some tranquillisation of the will to sail onward?

Whatever the answers; the path to the sea is now closed; with great dykes and locks creating what is now an inland lake; where ships will no longer set sail from Hoorn to steer South into the Roaring Forties for a drive across the ocean and, sometimes, to brush up against the west coast of New Holland.

As we walk home from the cinema we can feel that the sense of connection with the sea and the arts of sail is still rich within the houses that face the water.

Up there, a boat swings as the wind changes the angle of its approach. We wait for the wind to bring it abeam and snap away.



A neighbour’s cat welcomes us home.



I’ll light the fire
You put the flowers in the vase that you bought today….. Graham Nash



Friday 13th

The end of the week rolls around with the added double shot of being Friday 13th and also a full moon. We decide that access to decent coffee is a good start, so we call in to one of the cafes that we’ve found that serves good coffee.


The Het Koffie Lokaal serves a nice coffee indeed and also has some funky neighbours.  We’ve found that ordering a Cafe Americano usually delivers a Long Black, while Lattes, Flat Whites or Capuccinos come with a set formula for the number of shots etc.  This cafe does a nice Cortado with warm milk served on the side.

Now fortified, we ride our bikes on to the station and add them to the hundreds already parked there.  Trains run to Amsterdam Centraal every half hour at 10 past and 20 to the hour.  We’re getting used to the trip already. Off into Amsterdam to do some more discovery and then dinner and a band at Bitterzoet, a music venue not far from Centraal station.

We arrive at the station without incident and then find that our plan to rent OV Fiets (bikes) at the station is not going to work.  Most stations have the bikes available which can then be used to complete a trip, or attend an appointment; solving the problem of how to manage the last bit of a trip.  It turns out that these bikes are only available to those holding personal chip cards for the public transport system: cards that are available for residents only. So, it’s off to the other end  of the station to rent from MacBike, a very busy rental facility with a smooth operation to get us fitted with bikes and locks etc.

We’ve decided to check out Noord this afternoon, just across the water from Amsterdam Centraal.  We ride our bikes directly onto the ferry which only take a few minutes to cross to the other side.  We are just two of many many cyclists waiting to get to the other side.

The ferry had separate entry paths for cyclists and another for pedestrians.  In situations like this it seems that the Dutch are very orderly, no rushing or pushing, yet an implied responsibility to be ready to move when it’s our turn, so as not to cause inconvenience for others.

Like so many former dockland areas in cites around the world, parts of this area are being redeveloped for housing and other buildings. We pass the building with the revolving restaurant at its top and the white modernistic building of the  Amsterdam Eye which houses a film museum.

As we ride up the waterfront, we can see across to some of the islands that we walked on Wednesday and also to some of the buildings that we can see from the train as it travels between Amsterdam Sloterdijk and Centraal.

Riding further Northward, we can see the distant buildings of the former shipyard, the NDSM, where many shipyard buildings have been repurposed as cafes, bars, homes to startups, a base for Green peace and much more.

The area plays host to music and festivals as well as providing an excellent vision for how some former industrial areas can be utilised by a wide variety of users.

The scale of the old buildings is massive, with plenty of potential for a host of purposes.  It’s great to be able to pedal around having a good look at this very cool area.






Inside the huge sheds, where former repairs and fabrications were made are open areas and enclosures that can be used for a range of purposes including a bar tucked into the corner


The large crane that serviced the main building slipway still stands tall and proud beside the concrete slipway where men gather and share coffee and stories as they study the tourists who pass by; wide eyed and intent.



We set off back toward the ferry, along one of the dedicated cycleways that make getting around by bike so easy.  The key to these cycleways is that they are separated from traffic and also dedicated to cycles alone, with an adjacent footpath for pedestrians.  We also learn to ride well to the right as many of the cyclists here, who have been riding since they could walk, will come gliding by at a much faster pace than us.  The cycleways are also used by small motor scooters and even some tiny cars.


We quickly reach the ferry and cross back to the city side of the water where a major cycleway runs East West providing a very pleasant ride along the waterfront, where sailing ship the Amsterdam returns to base after a lunch cruise and Maltese registered river cruisers lie alongside waiting to take modern day Viking cruisers along the canals and rivers deep into Europe.










The cycleway traffic intensifies as we head toward the afternoon peak.  We return our MacBikes and wander off along the canals of the inner city, on the way to our dinner date at 5&33 and touring Aussie band The Rubens at Bitterzoet

Some great music; a few quiet drinks and then a train back to Hoorn and our bikes for a quick pedal back home.  A pretty good Friday really.

Saturday looks set to be a chilled day in Hoorn where many of the historic sites will be open as part of a monumental celebration.


Hoorn Home

We’ve been lucky when finding a home exchange to end up in a lovely spot in a very beautiful and historic town just North of Amsterdam.

Hoorn is just 31 minutes by train from Amsterdam Centraal station and the train runs every half hour; an intercity which commences its trip at Enkhuizen to the North and continues on through Amsterdam to the South. We use our chip cards to tap on and tap off just like our Opal cards.  Train travel here is efficient but certainly more expensive than in NSW.

Our ‘home’ is in a row of terraces which were once the homes for the prison guards who staffed a prison on nearby Ooste Eiland.

Out our front door and we can take a few steps to the top of a dyke and look out across the yacht harbour where shackles and lanyards clink against masts in the wind, and older boats line up alongside more contemporary pleasure craft.



The former prison can be seen across the harbour and the island on which it sits now also plays host to an electric water taxi service and as a mooring spot for the Half Moon replica ship and for cruise boats and charter boats to tie up. The former prison now houses a number of activities along with conversion of part of it into apartments.

As a particularly good stroke of luck, the buildings now also house a three cinema complex which screens art house and other movies in very comfortable surrounds. The movies are screened in English with Dutch subtitles.

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours seeing a screening of Downton Abbey.

In the late afternoon, we can wander along the path on top off the dyke and then, when turning the corner, we find that we’re very close to the historical tower that commands the view across the Hoorn harbour and the eel fishing boats which now ply their trade.

Not a bad part of the world at all.

Another Amsterdam

We got to talking with another couple who told us about the side of Amsterdam which is rarely seen by the hordes of tourists who roam the red light district and the inner canals all the time; through the bustle of cafes and coffee shops and attractions.

So, in what is apparently typical Autumn weather here in Holland, we set off to explore the section of Amsterdam which lies to the West of the Centraal Station.

Here, older houses lean at various angles as they settle further on piers which may need very expensive replacement.  At the top of each house, a beam protrudes with a hook for setting up a pulley for loading goods and furniture into different levels of the house due to the fact that internal stairs tend to be very steep and the treads very narrow.  It’s also not unusual for these houses to have two doors: one quite narrow and servicing the less desirable lower floors of the house where the windows are also smaller.  The wider door then provides access to the upper floors. with their bigger windows.

We soon find ourselves on the small islands created by the canals in the Westelijke Eilande area.

Here there is none of the frenetic activity that surrounds the canals on the other side of the station. Former warehouses have been converted to housing and new buildings sit comfortable alongside those that have been here for centuries.





Wandering further through the rain, we eventually find ourselves back outside Centraal station where a multi level bike parking station provides storage for thousands of bikes which provide a backdrop for Lynette as she shelters under a large umbrella.

Then, it’s back into the shelter of Centraal and one of the many bars and restaurants that form the lower level, looking out across the very well used cycleway that connects to the Noord ferry and, via a dedicated pedestrian and cycle tunnel, with the cycleways that head off into the city.

A bit of drying out and a drink and then we’re back in the train; home to Hoorn.


We’ve been making lists of places to travel to and experience.  The other day, it was time to head to Utrecht, to the South East of Amsterdam.  Luckily, every half hour there is a train from Hoorn which travels through Amsterdam and Utrecht on its way further afield. So a pleasant one hour trip in a nice train is definitely the way to go.

On arrival at Utrecht we were surprised to see that we’d alighted into a Centraal station which is very modern and surrounded by lots of new building work and an enormous shopping centre.

It took us a while to get through the shopping centre and find the old city centre where shoppers, locals and tourists wander through the streets.

We find the main canal which is unusual in that it has two levels: a street level on each side and, down below, at canal side level, a whole series of other premises.

We’d seen a lot of videos previously of cycling in Utrecht and decided that we’d really enjoy getting some bike and trying it out for ourselves.

A quick google search and a bit of plotting a course to find a bike shop meant that we were soon set up with rental bikes. These cost 7.50 euros and the bikes were in great condition and had hand brakes rather that the older black bike ‘back pedal’ or ‘foot brake.’

We set off and ended up taking a huge loop around the inner city, almost completely on cycle lanes and mixing with the hundreds of other cyclists that we travelled with along the way. We got to see a lot of inner Utrecht and were again amused at some of the quirkiness which just seems to bob up from time to time.

Right up there, on top of the shopping centre carpark, sits an eight metre high teapot.


After a number of kilometres dicovering various parts of the city, we began the pedal back toward the station and the bike rental shop, joining growing numbers of other cyclists finishing work, or school, or university for the day and heading home.  Everybody stops and waits patiently at red lights and stays within the cycle lanes which quickly lead to where we need to go, along with a stream of hundreds of others.

It’s nearly time for a post about bikes in Holland. They are such a ubiquitous part of life here with many many benefits.