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My European Favourites – Day Trip From Amsterdam

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The Netherlands is a great place to visit either as a main destination or as a stopover for a couple of days. I have always enjoyed flying KLM and use them often for our many groups travelling throughout Europe. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is an east hub to fly into from North America, and I like the airport layout over other big and busy European airports.

Amsterdam itself has many interesting places to visit and explore. The city is full of history, great architecture, canals, bridges, museums, great shopping, cyclists, interesting cafes, the Anne Frank House, the Heineken Brewery, and yes, the notorious red light district. Not many people venture outside the city during a stopover, but one of our favourite day trips is from Amsterdam. We always try to do it on a Wednesday, so we catch the Edam cheese market show.

De Huisman Windmill exterior and interior grinding spices. Clog machine at work and the final products.

Zaanse Schans

Our twenty minute early morning trip to Zaandam starts after a good breakfast at our centrally located hotel in Amsterdam. On the way, you can enjoy the beautiful Dutch countryside including dikes and plots of land reclaimed from the water, called polders. Starting in the late 16th century, the Zaandam and the Zaan river area were important wood milling regions during the “Dutch Golden Age” with thousands of saw windmills. In the 19th century, the area became a leader of the “Industrial Age” in the Netherlands.

Starting in 1961, the Zaanse Schans was turned into an open air museum with windmills and buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Various wooden houses, barns, shops, warehouses and windmills were transported here starting in 1961. The buildings along with traditional farmsteads, paths, ditches and fields depict how village life was like during that prosperous time.

When we arrive at the Zaanse Schans parking lot, you will undoubtably smell chocolate from the nearby cacao processing factories. Entrance to the Zaansee Schans is free, but some of the workshops and windmills located throughout the grounds are museums and require an entrance fee. You can purchase a ticket to have access to all the museums.

One of the first buildings you will see on arrival is the Kooijman Souvenirs & Clogs Wooden Shoe Workshop. Here you can see a wooden clog machine demonstration. Afterwards, wander throughout the site checking out the bakery, fisherman’s house, weavers house, clock house, merchant house, cheese house, pewter house, pancake house and see how vats and barrels are made at the cooperage. With a little breeze, you can see the sails of the windmills slowly turning while the inner workings churn away. The windmills saw wood or mill oil, flower, spices or pigments to dye cloth. Some windmills allow visitors to climb up to the deck via narrow stairs for a nice view of the river and the area.

The Zaans Museum, located by the parking area, opened in 1998, and contains clothing and artifacts from the area. At its Verkade Experience you can see original chocolate and biscuit factory machines from the early 20th century at work. The museum also has a café and shop.

Traditional houses that are now workshops and museums. Like the Catharina Hoeve Cheese House.

Edam

Another short 20 minute drive, and we reach Edam, which is famous for its cheese market that started in1520. Edam cheese is round with a flattened top and bottom and is coated with a red paraffin wax which allowed it to age well and not spoil on long voyages. Its unique taste plus the lack of spoilage made it extremely attractive for exporting throughout the world. The market was closed in 1922 when cheese began to be made in factories rather than by local farms.

At the original market, farmers would bring their cheese using horse drawn cart or by boat. Once they arrived, the cheese carriers, who wore different colored hats depending on which cheese guild they belonged to, would load the product onto wooden barrows. Once the barrow was loaded, the carriers placed carry straps over their shoulders and walked the precious cargo to the cheese tasters. The tasters would drill a core sample from the cheese and based on the exterior wax, smell, taste and other factors began to bargain the price with the seller using a series of shouts and hand claps. When the price was settled the cheese was taken to the weighing house to determine the final amount to be paid.

Every Wednesday in the summer from 10:30 to 12:30, the town re-enacts the hustle, and bustle of the market at the Jan van Nieuwenhuizen Square. The colorful market includes many family members, including children, wearing traditional costumes, dresses and clogs plus kiosks selling cheese. Throughout the performance, horse carts and boats arrive, cheese carriers scurry at a comical pace and bargain shouts and hand slaps can be heard. So visitors understand everything that is happening, there is a person on a microphone explaining the entire process. It’s quite interesting and fun to witness.

The Edam cheese market square, unloading the boats, cheese carriers and girls in traditional costumes.

Smoked Eels

Next, we will travel from Edam to the seaside fishing village of Volendam to visit a local smokehouse that was founded in 1856.  Smoked eels at one time were an important staple food in the Netherlands but recently a drop in the eel population and the resulting price increase has made it a delicacy. Today, the 5th and 6th generations of the Smits’ family keep their family’s secret fish smoking process and traditions alive. The smoked eel is their specialty and during the eel fishing season the entire family is involved in the cutting, gouging, skinning, digging and filleting of the eels. The Paviljoen Smit-Bokkum offers private tours of the smokehouse to introduce people to the traditional eel fishing, processing and smoking activities. In addition to eel, they smoke salmon, dorado and sea bass using pine wood. The eel is delicious and at their restaurant you can try various local dishes. The location also has a shop and a small Palingsound (eel sound) Museum dedicated to Volendam’s unique and famous pop music.

The Paviljoen Smit-Bokkum, our guide with smoked eels, smoked fish and a fish display in Volendam.

Volendam

Volendam, once a simple catholic fishing village, is now Holland’s best-known seaside town and is visited by millions annually. The Volendam Catholic fishermen had their own typical costumes and dialect. The town’s boardwalk, once home to fishermen’s wooden shacks, is now adorned with colorful wooden houses, tourist shops, cafes and restaurants. As you walk through the town and its shops, you will see locals wearing the traditional clothing. If you explore the village’s narrow lanes in the old neighborhoods, you can still see some of the old fishermens’ houses.

There used to be hundreds of vessels at one time when Volendam’s fishing fleet had access to the North Sea, but after closing its access, the harbour contains only a few fishing vessels doing fresh water fishing on Markermeer lake. Nowadays, leisure boats and the ferries that go to the nearby island of Marken occupy the majority of the harbour space.

Some restaurants offer tasty local seafood dishes and cool drinks on patios overlooking the harbour. For a quick lunch, food stands and take away restaurants sell kibbeling (battered and fried fish nuggets), herring, shrimp and of course smoked eel.

A visit to the Volendams Museum provides an interesting look into the town’s history, costumes, traditions and art. If you have time, you may consider taking the Volendam Marken Express boat to Marken.

Volendam’s boardwalk with shops and restaurants. The harbour area with leisure and ferry boats.

Cheese Farm

On the way back to Amsterdam, and a short distance from Volendam, we will stop at the Henri Willig Jacob’s Hoeve cheese farm. The staff wear traditional clothing, and they give a short introduction and demonstration of the cheese making process. The number of cow goat and sheep cheese varieties is quite overwhelming but very interesting to sample. Some flavours you might encounter include truffle, cumin, pesto, red chili pepper, coconut, pepper, rosemary and garlic. They are all for sale in various sizes along with other Dutch souvenirs and foods. You can also see the cows in their new stable especially designed for the organic farm’s herd of Jerseys.

Henri Willig Jacob’s Hoeve entrance, the cheese making demonstration and the many cheeses for sale.

It is only twenty minutes back to Amsterdam and as you enjoy the countryside you can decide on what great restaurant you will go to tonight. I think an authentic Indonesian “rijsttafel” or rice table would be a great way to end the day. The rice table was brought back to the Netherlands from the Dutch East Indies where it was created by the Dutch as a festive way to showcase their colony’s diverse and multi-ethnic Indonesian cuisine. The rice is accompanied by a multitude of small meat, vegetarian and condiment dishes that may include spring rolls, satay meat skewers, curries, fish, boiled eggs, spicy sauces, peanut sauces, vegetables, and fried bananas. It is great for sampling different tastes and for sharing. You can find Indonesian fast food and restaurants throughout Amsterdam, but a place like Tujuh Maret or Ron Gastrobar Indonesia offering a rice table is definitely something you should experience.

Explore Europe With Us

Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing Tours have taken thousands to Europe on their custom group tours since 1994. Visit azorcan.net to see all our custom tour possibilities for your group of 26 or more. Individuals can join our “open” signature sport, sightseeing and sport fan tours including our popular Canada hockey fan tours to the World Juniors. At azorcan.net/media you can read our newsletters and listen to our podcasts.

Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours. This article was original published in March 2021. 

My European Favourites – One Day In The Bavarian Alps

I have been in sports management and the sports tour business since 1994 when I created my company, Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing tours. Please visit our website at azorcan.net for more information on our company, our tours and our destinations. We are European group tour experts specializing in custom sightseeing tours, sport tours (hockey, soccer, ringette, school academies) and fan tours (World Juniors). Check out our newsletters, and listen to our podcasts at azorcan.net/media.

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RBC reports $3.9B Q4 profit as it prepares for a more turbulent year ahead

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By Ian Bickis in Toronto

Royal Bank of Canada is taking measures to prepare for a more uncertain year ahead, but results from the past quarter still show gains in key areas like loans and new client additions.

The bank, which on Tuesday announced it had reached a deal to buy HSBC Bank Canada for $13.5 billion, said Wednesday it was raising its dividend for the last time until the deal is closed, while also announcing a two per cent discount on dividend reinvestments to help boost its balance sheet.

Given the potential slowdown ahead, the bank also set aside $381 million for potentially bad loans, compared with a reversal of $227 million last year, which offset gains elsewhere in the quarter to leave earnings of $3.88 billion just $10 million shy from a year earlier.

The actions on loan provisions and dividend discounts come as elevated housing and energy prices, geopolitical instability, and rising interest rates put pressure on growth, affect asset valuations and adds to market volatility, said RBC chief executive Dave McKay.

“We maintain our cautious stance on the outlook for economic growth,” he said on an analyst call.

“Although higher interest rates are needed to preserve long term economic stability, the lagging impact of monetary policy, combined with strong employment and significant liquidity in the system, has likely delayed what may end up being a brief and moderate recession.”

While rising rates put pressure on the economy, RBC is especially well positioned to benefit from them as the net interest margins on its sizable deposit base grows.

The bank said it saw net income in personal and commercial banking grow five per cent from a year ago to $2.14 billion, mostly due to those higher margins along with average volume growth of 10 per cent in loans, and wealth management also got a boost from higher net interest income and loan volume growth.

The boost from rising interest margins come as a benefit of RBC’s scale, which it continues to push to increase, both through the HSBC Canada acquisition, and more organic growth.

HSBC Canada gives the potential for RBC to add some 800,000 clients if it goes through as expected in late 2023, while this year the bank added 400,000 clients, and expects its client referral deal with the Canadian division of India’s ICICI Bank to direct some 50,000 more customers as immigration levels reach record highs.

The bank is well-positioned to add more clients, and deposits, next year to provide lower-cost funding for its loans, said McKay.

“We believe our largely deposit-funded balance sheet will be a key driver of profitability in a rising rate environment,” he said.

The bank’s capital markets business shows the clearest indications of volatility, with net income of $617 million down 33 per cent from a year earlier, but up 29 per cent from the third quarter.

Revenue totalled $12.57 billion, up from $12.38 billion a year earlier.

The quarter showed strong loan growth and no signs of a credit spike for RBC, said Scotiabank analyst Meny Grauman in a note, but he wondered about what the bank’s move on the discounted dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) shows for the bank’s capital outlook, given the expected tougher economic conditions next year.

“In that context a defensive move on the DRIP raises questions about downside risks,” said Grauman.

He said the bank’s better-than-expected earnings, which came in at an adjusted $2.78 per diluted share for the quarter compared with a consensus of $2.68, according to Refinitiv, was from higher revenues and smaller loan provisions than expected.

Bank expenses however, which were up 9.5 per cent for the quarter compared with last year on higher staffing costs and some acquisition-related increase, came in higher than expected.

RBC said it will now pay a quarterly dividend of $1.32 per share, an increase of four cents.

For its full financial year, RBC said it earned $15.81 billion or $11.06 per diluted share on $48.99 billion in revenue compared with a record profit of $16.05 billion or $11.06 per diluted share on $49.69 billion in revenue in the same period last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RY)

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Bank of Canada lost $522 million in third quarter, marking first loss in its history

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By Nojoud Al Mallees in Ottawa

The Bank of Canada lost $522 million in the third quarter of this year, marking the first loss in its 87-year history.

In the central bank’s latest quarterly financial report, it says revenue from interest on its assets did not keep pace with interest charges on deposits at the bank, which have grown amid rapidly rising interest rates.

The Bank of Canada’s aggressive interest rate hikes this year have raised the cost of interest charges it pays on settlement balances deposited in the accounts of big banks.

That’s while the income the central bank receives from government bonds it holds remains fixed.

The Bank of Canada dramatically expanded its assets during the pandemic as part of its government bond purchasing program. Also known as quantitative easing, the policy was part of the central bank’s efforts to stimulate the economy.

That expansion in assets is now costing the central bank, as it paid for the government bonds with the creation of settlement balances.

Speaking before the House of Commons finance committee last week, Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem addressed the expected losses.

He said losses don’t affect the central bank’s ability to conduct monetary policy.

He noted the size and duration of the losses will depend on the path of interest rates and the evolution of the economy.

“Following a period of losses, the Bank of Canada will return to positive net earnings,” he said.

The Bank of Canada is looking to the federal government for a solution to balance its books.

While there are a few options available, some economists say the problem before the central bank is largely an accounting one rather than a monetary policy concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.

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