Cycle backroads and fietspaden (bike paths) between Naarden and Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This afternoon I embarked on a much-anticipated discovery bike ride, initially heading north-west from Naarden in the general direction of Amsterdam, but not intending to go there. I had consulted paper maps before my departure, thinking that I could retain sufficient knowledge of key landmarks to get me through. But I hadn’t imagined the plethora of fietspaden (bike paths) and countless intersecting points and by-ways. This played havoc with my mental recall. So I soon had to resign myself to taking it as it comes.

From Naarden I followed pathways that took me alongside IJsselmerweg onto tracks within Naarderbos, a lovely stretch of forested land planted in the 1980s, then under the A6 onto the paved Tesselschadelaan which led to the well-to-do enclave of Muiderberg.

From here I rode westward along Paulinelaan which became Van Ostadelaan and when it terminated at a T-junction I turned right into Gerard Doulaan which turned south-west and became Googweg. This took me across a large dyke and delivered me to Hakkelaarsbrug.

Continuing south-west, I picked out De Goog which took me under the broad A1 and onto the vast Naardermeer polder, a low-lying tract of reclaimed and treeless land that is criss-crossed by water channels. Here there are fietspaden on a mound raised above rectangular fields of green crops – they are straight, long and exposed. On a day of strong winds, cycling here would be exacting but today was sunny and windless.

I turned off De Goog and followed Meerkade until its end where I turned right, now heading due south, onto Keverdijk. Many kilometres later I arrived at a prominent S-bend in the Vecht, at a place named Oostelijke Vechtoever (eastern shore of the Vecht), close to Fort Uitermeer which I visited yesterday. Here I left the mounded pathways and connected with s’Gravelandseweg, a quiet rural road that traces the gently winding Vecht, and headed generally north-west.

I have approached Weesp, an old fortified town dating from the Middle Ages when the area was an uninhabited peat bog. For a short distance, the Vecht splits into two, creating a small island. Two short bridges carry me from s’Gravelandseweg on the northern bank of the river to the Centrum (town centre) on the southern side.

The river crossing is made possible by the Lange Vechtbrug (Long Vecht Bridge), a timber-built folding bridge consisting of two bridge halves that link the Ossenmarkt island in the middle of the river. This bridge is a national monument. Its name denotes that this bridge is longer than other bridges over the Vecht.

I crossed the second bridge and turned left into Hoogstraat which took me along a section of the extensive waterfront until land’s end where the split in the Vecht merges. By now I’ve lost my sense of direction and decided to follow a route beside the water via Achter Het Vosje, then into Oudegracht, then into Het Kleine Plein which forded a large canal, then onto Nieuwstad across another canal and then generally southward along De Kleine Weer. This took me away from the old town to the newer neighbourhood of Aetsveld and the nearby polder.

Here I decided to change course by returning to Weesp’s Centrum (town centre) using a different route – via G J Wiefferingdreef, C J van Houtenlaan, Gooeneweg and the Breedstraat canal bridge which brought me front on to admire the Museum Weesp, built as the Weesp city hall between 1772 and 1776. The council convenes in the Raadzaal (council hall) in this building but the administrative offices have moved elsewhere.

The museum started upstairs as an antiquities room in 1911. In 1974 the council established a proper museum when an important gift of porcelain was given from the legacy of Baron F van Heeckeren van Waliën. This collection is now in the former vroedschapskamer (council meeting room).

Weesp is sometimes described as ‘Little Amsterdam’. Like the Dutch capital, Weesp has monumental buildings, canals and small shops. But it is an oasis of serenity when compared with Amsterdam.

I returned to the Breedstraat canal bridge and this time headed north-west along Nieuwstad with the canal on my right, but for only a short distance where this canal intersects with another, like in Amsterdam itself. I used the Zwaantjesbrug to cross the intersecting waterways and turned left, due west, onto Herengracht with a canal – the Smal Weesp (Narrow Weesp) – on my left.

When I saw ahead that this road will terminate at another channel of water, I crossed to the other side of the canal onto Buitenveer which turned gradually south-west and became Verlengd Buitenveer. I stopped to take a photo of a classic Dutch windmill, the Molen ‘t Haantje (Haantje Mill), on the opposite side of the Smal Weesp.

This mill first stood in Amsterdam in 1820 and was used as a marble sawmill. It is said to be the first rock mill built on an industrial scale. It has a wipstelling (seesaw) cutting technique and is one of only three such mills in all of The Netherlands. It has become a national monument.

Returning to my bike, and as the Buitenveer ends promptly, I turned right over a small bridge into Rijnkade and now I am headed north, on the right bank of the broad North Holland-Utrecht shipping canal. Massive self-powered barges are plying the waterway in both directions, their cargo not visible under closed hatches. I imagine they are carrying shipping containers or bulk materials. More recognisable barges are carrying petroleum or oil.

Rijnkade soon turned right back towards Weesp but I proceeded straight ahead on a truck-width stretch of bituminous fietspad known as Kanaalpad, heading generally north-east towards Amsterdam. Scores of kitted-out cyclists are doing the same, in both directions and on both sides of the canal. It seems the strips of bitumen are a heavily-used route for fast-moving, lycra-clad riders.

At Spoorspad where a railway bridges the canal, I crossed on a dedicated cycle lane and continued northward along Kanaaldijk West. Several kilometres on, I reached Brug Muiden where I turned left and join a fietspad running alongside the A1. I followed this to the Amsterdam suburbs of Overdiemen and Diemen. With ever-increasing urbanisation including significant roadworks, I decided it is time to turn around and return to Naarden.

My mind flashed to Van Diemen’s Land, the former name for Australia’s island of Tasmania, and to Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who first charted parts of the island coast in the 17th century. I mused whether Anthoonij van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies for whom Tasmania was first named, came from Diemen where I now was.

I retraced the path to Brug Muiden and, instead of returning beside the shipping canal, I proceeded straight ahead in the shadow of the A1, riding along Maxisweg and Zuiderzeeboulevard. The locale is initially open and relatively unpleasant for cycling, but before long the path diverges from the A1 and traces the Muidertrekvaart canal which leads to the lovely town of Muiden.

The one-way bridge on Sluisstraat which fords the Vecht was temporarily closed for pavement restoration, and traffic banks up in both directions. I waited it out then crossed the bridge and turned eastward into Herengracht. The setting is beautiful. Outdoor cafes are doing a good trade and the atmosphere is delightful. I stopped to take a photo of one of my favourite Dutch scenes, the placid Vecht with the Muiderslot castle in view.

Vowing to return and spend more time here, I reluctantly left Muiden, heading south by taking Naarderstraat which leads into Zuidpolderweg, and with a narrow canal on my left throughout. This is pleasant, easy riding on a dedicated fietspad. I soon reached Hakkelaarsbrug, where I had been hours earlier. Here the path and canal divert slightly, and I rode along the shoulder of Rijksweg which leads all the way to Naarden.

Somehow I overshot the turnoff to my relatives’ home and continued towards Bussum before realising the error. I then caught a glimpse of the spire on Grote Kerk Naarden and found myself drawn to old town Naarden and its amazing star-shaped fortifications, so I diverted for another admiring look at both the cobble-stoned town and the imposing defence structures. There are plenty of cycle paths here and I ended up doing a clover-leaf, before buying a bottle of wine from a liquor store in Markstraat to share over dinner with my kind hosts. My route totalled 54km, ridden in 3h7m at a comfortable 17.2km/h.

Explore the outskirts of Naarden, The Netherlands

From Australia, I ordered a road-bike from bicycle hire company MH Verhuur. This morning the bike was delivered to my relatives’ address as scheduled. The bike came from the MH Verhuur branch at Hilversum, about 9 km south of Naarden. The bike mechanic happily adjusted the seat for my requirements, tested the pedal fittings for compatibility with my MTB shoes, and took my deposit.

A short time later, I took a 20-minute test ride in the neighbourhood. Working clockwise, I headed eastward along Over de Tol, then southward along Amersfoortsestraatweg, then north-west along Godelindeweg which becomes Rijksweg, then eastward along Konig Wilhelminalaan and then into Alexanderlaan to complete a 4km loop.

In Alexanderlaan, I stopped to photograph deer and sheep grazing in a grassy paddock. This place is known as Hertenkamp (Deer Camp) and the animals here are maintained by the Stichting De Gooise Ark for children to see and experience at close range.

In the early afternoon, I donned cycle gear and made a longer ride from Naarden to Bussum to s’Graveland to Uitermeer and back to Naarden, a round trip of about 34km.

I stumbled upon Fort bij Uitermeer (Fort Uitermeer), now a monument. This Fort had its beginnings in 1589 but the present structure was built in 1673. It is located within the Naardermeer on the River Vecht.

The Naardermeer is a protected natural area on the north-western border of the area Het Gooi, Holland’s most celebrated residential locality. Naardermeer lies between the towns of Muiderberg, Naarden, Hilversumse Meent and Weesp. It comprises a lake with reeds, surrounding hayfields and swamp forests. It is home to many species of plant and animal, including purple herons.

It was the first area acquired by the Vereniging tot Behoud van Natuurmonumenten in Nederland (Society for Preservation of Nature Monuments in The Netherlands) after founder Jac (Jacobus) P Thijsse created this organisation in 1905 to buy, protect and manage nature reserves in The Netherlands.

The Naardermeer is one of the few waters in the west of The Netherlands with a long history of natural formation. Most other current waters in this part of The Netherlands have been formed by human extraction of peat over the last 300 years, whereas the first contours of the Naardermeer arose some 4,000 years ago when the Vecht flowed through swamps and inland lakes to extensive mudflats, exposing peaty banks.

Fort Uitermeer is surrounded by water from the Naardermeer on the eastern bank of the Vecht. It is an old fort that formed part of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (New Dutch Waterline) and later the Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam).

The Defence Line of Amsterdam is a 135km network of structures to protect the Dutch capital from foreign attack. Built between 1880 and 1920, the Defence Line consists of 42 forts and four batteries. Through a refined system of sluices, dams and other hydraulic facilities, the area outside the Defence Line could be inundated in times of danger. The system is considered a masterly example of Dutch hydraulic ingenuity. It is a unique monument of defensive and hydraulic engineering. Many of the forts and batteries have since been given a new purpose.

The purpose of Fort Uitermeer was to protect the land passages between the Naardermeer and the Vecht. The two main passages were the Amsterdam – Amersfoort railway line and the road from Hilversum to Weesp.

When I visited on 9 October 2018, the Fort was closed to visitors because a nearby building, the Paviljoen Uit & Meer (Uit & Meer Pavilion), was destroyed by fire in the previous year. This building had served as an access point to the Fort. A replacement building is expected to open in March 2019.

Highlights in old town Naarden, The Netherlands

This blog address contains a report and photographs from my 9-day visit to The Netherlands for short spells at Naarden in North Holland’s Gooi region, and at Eibergen in the Achterhoek area on The Netherlands’ eastern border. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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My Singapore Airlines flight from Sydney to Singapore and onward KLM flight arrived at Schiphol on time and my passage through immigration and customs was straightforward.

My first challenge was to locate a telecommunications provider within the Schiphol train station concourse, which is conveniently located right by the airport terminal exit, where I could purchase a local SIM card for my stay in The Netherlands. The railway information desk pointed me towards a nearby supermarket where you can buy packets from multiple telco suppliers but when I glimpsed a Lycamobile booth I decided to utilise its product so that the attendant could install and activate the SIM card on the spot.

My next challenge was to buy a one-way ticket to Naarden-Bussum train station near where my relatives reside. I looked at but quickly forwent the self-service ticket machine as I was unsure of the procedure amidst fast-moving queues of proficient users. I opted for the over-the-counter desk to buy a ticket and ask for directions to the correct platform. Before long, the Dutch Railways (known as NS) Sprinter train arrived and I boarded for the 28-minute trip to Naarden-Bussum. On arrival, I put my newly-installed SIM card to its first use by calling my relatives and asking them to collect me. They arrived promptly.

My relatives are so welcoming to my family, I remain forever grateful for the ease with they have accepted us into their lives and for the interest and generosity they genuinely show. We chatted throughout the morning, catching up on the many goings-on in our respective lives since my last visit to Naarden in October 2017.

In the afternoon, my relatives took me to old town Naarden to view local highlights. Naarden was granted city rights in 1300 and later developed into a fortified garrison town. The fortification was built by the Spanish after they invaded in 1572 during the reign of Felipe II (known in Spain as ‘Philip the Prudent’), son of King Charles V of Spain and Queen Isabella of Portugal.

Naarden is a textbook example of a star-shaped fort grid, complete with fortified walls and a moat. Naarden is recognised as one of the best-preserved fortified towns in Europe.

From the air, the most prominent building on the land within the moat is the Grote Kerk Naarden (Great Church of Naarden). Before the Protestant Reformation, the Church was named for St Vitus, a Catholic martyr from Roman times. Nowadays, it is sometimes referred to as St Vitus Church. This landmark, at Marktstraat 13, was our first place to visit today.

The Church dates from the 15th century, before the fortifications were built. It is one of the oldest surviving churches in The Netherlands. It survived the Spanish invasion of 1572 and the subsequent burning of Naarden.

The Church layout adopts the late Gothic cross basilica pattern. It has multiple wooden vaults that are painted with scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

The oldest part of the Church are sections of the tower, which were built between 1380 and 1440. The current cross basilica with a choir tower and relatively low crossbeams were the result of an extension between 1455 and 1518, partly in response to destructive fires in 1468 and 1481.

The aisles have stone vaults, but the nave is covered by an oak barrel vault, painted between 1510 and 1518 with Biblical representations – on the north side is the New Testament and on the south side is the corresponding Old Testament. In the apse, the Last Judgment is depicted. The oak-wood choir fence dates from 1531 and depicts Renaissance carvings.

The Church is managed by the Stichting Grote Kerk Naarden (Great Church of Naarden Foundation) for worship by the Protestantse Gemeente Naarden (Naarden Protestant Community). The Church can be hired for functions and other events.

The building has excellent acoustics, making it suitable for concerts. The best known is the annual performance on Good Friday of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion (St Matthew’s Passion) by the Nederlandsche Bach-Vereeniging (Netherlands Bach Society).

We walked on to Het Arsenaal (The Arsenal) at Kooltjesbuurt 1. This is a national monument that for 300 years was a military facility. The foundation stone was laid around 1688 after the original Spanish-built Naarden fortifications had been improved according to a Dutch fortification plan.

But on completion of the fortification work, Naarden had no storeroom for weapons and ammunition. So the large Het Arsenaal was built. In 1728 the establishment was enlarged with an extra floor and a new wing on the north-east side, known as Klein Arsenaal (small arsenal).

During World War I, the buildings were used as a guesthouse for fortress’ infantry and for soldiers treated at the nearby military hospital. After the war, the buildings were revived as a store for weaponry and ammunition. From 1950, the structures became a depot for military maps. After a destructive fire in 1954, the complex was restored and remained in military use until 1987.

Six years later, the entire complex was converted into a design centre and concept store under the leadership of Jan des Bouvrie, Holland’s most famous interior architect.

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Looking up from near the rear of the Grote Kerk (Great Church) to reveal 10 wooden vaults

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The main organ, built by C G F Witte from the Utrecht-based organ builder firm Bätz-Witte in 1862
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Part of the vaulted ceiling and the main organ, as seen from mirrors placed on a table on the Church floor
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English-language description of the painted depictions on the Church ceiling
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Another image of the main organ
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The choir organ above the window above the entrance doors to the Church – it was built in 1937 by Flentrop Orgelbouw (Flentrop Organ Builders), a Dutch company located in Zaandam and operating since 1903
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A section of the oak-wood choir fence which dates from 1531 and depicts Renaissance carvings – at top of picture is the choir organ
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A hard-to-read burial stone for a former bishop of the Church, which is part of the Church floor
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On the wall of the Church is this and the next portrait of the parents of Jacobus Verhoef, an Amsterdam merchant, who left his estate to the Naarden diaconie (deaconate) when he died in 1740. The funds were used to establish the Old Men’s and Women’ s House in nearby Gansoordstraat (Gansoord Street). The paintings date from the first half of the 17th century and are attributed to a painter from the era of Ferdinand Bol, a Dutch painter who followed Rembrandt’s influence. In the Dutch Protestant churches, a diaconie is the legal entity of a local ecclesiastical congregation
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On the wall of the Church is this and the previous portrait of the parents of Jacobus Verhoef, an Amsterdam merchant, who left his estate to the Naarden diaconie (deaconate) when he died in 1740. The funds were used to establish the Old Men’s and Women’ s House in nearby Gansoordstraat (Gansoord Street). The paintings date from the first half of the 17th century and are attributed to a painter from the era of Ferdinand Bol, a Dutch painter who followed Rembrandt’s influence. In the Dutch Protestant churches, a diaconie is the legal entity of a local ecclesiastical congregation.
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A promotional poster for the 1922 performance of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion (St Matthew’s Passion) by the Nederlandsche Bach-Vereeniging (Netherlands Bach Society), displayed on a wall near the entrance doors
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The Naarden city hall at Marktstraat 22 – it was built in 1601 in the characteristic Dutch Renaissance style
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A cannon on the lawn outside Het Arsenaal Interior Design & Lifestyle at Kooltjesbuurt 1