Holland by Barge, With Infant | My Family Travels
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This journal chronicles one of our last trips from Rotterdam, where we lived on a restored barge in the Old Harbor with our daughter Em, now almost two years old.  We were looking for a new port that would provide nursery school options, and decided to spend our holiday exploring Holland by barge.  Soon after the trip, we moved our family to Gouda.

Thursday afternoon we left Rotterdam’s Oude Haven and motored an hour upriver to the Zaag island at Krimpen ann de Lek.  We left late on Friday, starting our holiday habit of delaying our departure until our daughter took her morning nap.  We headed east upriver on the Lek, locked through into the Merwede Canal, and tied up east of Old Vianen.

Saturday morning, we walked along the High Street and up to the Lek dike through an Old Town gate where beams could be slotted into the walls, closing the dike when the river was high.  With Em asleep, we set off again, a very black sky chasing us.  Eventually it caught us and surrounded us with thunder and lightning.  Since Claudia was down below with Em, I was left to face the elements in our small wheelhouse.  The sun came back out later that afternoon, the wind dropped, and we decided to spend the night at anchor next to the village of Opheusden.

At Sea

After a perfectly still night, we set off upriver towards Arnhem.  We spent the afternoon looking around Arnhem, very quiet on a Sunday compared to a city like Rotterdam.  The next day, we set off for the final few kilometers upstream, then turned around and headed down the Gelderse Ijssel.  It was beautiful weather and lovely countryside: Holland at its best with cows wading in the shallows and birds of prey along the winding banks.

All too soon we came to Zutphen, where we turned around and moored facing upstream.  Walking around Zutphen, we decided we liked it a lot.  Plenty of history — but lived in and not a museum like many old towns in Holland.

Tuesday, at Zwolle, we swung off the Ijssel Sea onto the Zwolle canal towards the Zwarte Water and Hasselt, where we tied up for the night.

Life On Land

Two days later, we tied up for the night in the middle of New Amsterdam.  Pushing Em’s chariot, we discovered New Amsterdam to be about one kilometer long and the width of the canal plus a row of buildings on each side.  Our berth was right in front of a Chinese restaurant.  We concluded that in our 10-plus years together we had never had a Chinese take-away meal, so we decided to order.  We crossed the street to set up our table and chairs on the rear deck, picked up the Chinese food, and sat down to eat.

Later, sitting in the evening sun with cold white wine and empty plates, we drank a toast– Op Hoop van Zegen (the name of our barge)– and decided we were glad to be together on holiday, on our barge, and that life was good.

It was only a short trip into Coevorden on Saturday morning, and we arrived for the annual reunion of the Old Barge Club.  Many people hadn’t seen our daughter Em before, or had seen her when she was still very small.  She loved the attention, and happily spent the weekend being passed from hand to hand.

On Monday, Claudia’s parents drove in to take us 12 kilometers to Emmen Zoo (+31 (0)591-85 08 52).  We started by visiting the butterfly enclosure.  The butterflies enchanted Em, flying closely past her and landing on her head or our shoulders.  We could have spent the whole visit there easily but decided we should see the elephants, monkeys, lions, and penguins, too.  Em had a system whereby everything fit into one of three categories : Ooo (cow), Oef (dog), or Auw (cat).  I can’t remember where the penguins fell in her scheme of things.  Em was knocked out by the end of the afternoon and slept all the way home in the car.  However, she slept uneasily, reliving the day and all the new animals: Ooos, Oefs, and Auws.

Exploring the Ijssel Coast

By midweek, we headed south towards Almelo through lovely countryside.  Since the canal was higher than the surrounding land, we could see in all directions.  This was a green, arable piece of the Netherlands where people obviously live off the land.  Here was a space that, living in the west of Holland, one associates with foreign countries.  We didn’t go into Almelo, but headed round to the west again toward the Ijssel.

We planned to spend most of Friday looking around the Deventer and quickly decided that this was our favorite Ijssel city.  There were plenty of historical buildings dating far back to the time when the Ijssel was the “main port” of the Netherlands, along with lovely bookshops, galleries, and people eating outdoors on terraces.  In small side streets, we walked past little coffee shops that brought to mind parts of Paris (maybe it was the sun).

Saturday was market day, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables, and a Greek selling marvelous olives, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Fully laden, we set off and soon arrived at Kampen.  We cycled through the small streets of Kampen to where the moat outside the old city gates has been turned into a park ringing the city.  Here Em chased the ducks, who approached thinking they were going to be fed.

The children’s zoo was closed Sunday and as the streets filled with neatly dressed families cycling to church, we went home for coffee and to write postcards. 

We then turned the bows toward the Kampermeer to follow the old, pre-Ijsselmeer coastline.  This was the last day of the holidays and a sunny one, too.  We watched everybody heading home, happy that we had another week ahead of us.

Looking for shops, we headed up the Eem as far as Eemdijk on Monday.  We continued west for the next few days, and Thursday we reached the lock at Spaarndam that would bring us onto the Spaarne that flows through Haarlem.  It was a fairly slow passage but the buildings along the waterfront deserve to be passed slowly. 

Touring Haarlem

We decided we would tie up after the last bridge and walk back into town.  We walked through a series of little streets before finding ourselves in the central market square, where every terrace was full of people drinking in the sunshine.  We headed down a side street, found ourselves a table and ordered two cold beers while Em ate her rice cracker and flirted with the people at the next table.

Friday we made a classic mistake.  The trip out of Haarlem and south on the Ringvaart was lovely, the canal again higher than the land, giving Em plenty of opportunity to see the Oos.  It was late enough in the season for Kaang to be reasonably quiet, but we didn’t stop, thinking we would carry on for half an hour or so.  Of course, half an hour later there was nowhere to moor, and many half hours later we finally tied up to a grassy canal bank in Kouderkerk aan de Rijn.

Getting to Know Gouda

After shopping on Saturday, we set off towards Alphen aan de Rijn, where we turned south towards Gouda.  We had been to Gouda earlier in the year and liked it: a big enough town to have a market with olives and foreign cheeses, good rail and bus connections and (thinking ahead) a choice of schools.  There was also a harbor in the area so that Em could play ashore much easier or row without being swept out to sea.

After mooring, we went to the harbormaster’s barge for tea.  On our previous visit we had made our interest known, and now we heard that with an official application we had a very good chance of a berth at fairly short notice.  We promised to write as soon as we got home.

Like all journeys, this one had to end too, and Sunday brought us home to Rotterdam’s Wijnhaven, where we would plug in the phone, fetch the post, download the e-mails, say hello to the neighbors and get ready for work on Monday.  Home again.

Details:  For more information about Holland, call  800/GO-HOLLAND or visit www.goholland.com.

Writers, illustrators and master ship craftsmen Andrew and Claudia Sadler live in Gouda, Holland aboard a barge with their daughter, Emma, who was two-years-old in 2001.


This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.