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Hoorn | Netherlands

Passengers leave the train, and board the Friesland ferry, to sail on the Zuiderzee.

Full steam back into history

By Paul Knowles

I’m going to set the bar very high: the Hoorn Steamtram excursion is one of the finest day trips I have ever experienced, anywhere. You get hands-on with history from a multitude of perspectives – riding in an authentic heritage railway car pulled by a historic steam tram; visiting not one but two museums, one a living village filled with costumed interpreters; and sailing on a mid-20th century ferry in the Zuiderzee.

It’s an amazing day.

It all starts at the Dutch town of Hoorn, a community located about 45 kilometers north of Amsterdam. Hoorn is home to the “Museumterrein Hoorn,” located at the Steam Tram station, where you can learn a lot about the history of the train you are about to ride.

The historic steam tram, based in Hoorn, The Netherlands.

And then it is time to board your coach, already hitched to the fascinating steam tram. And you’re off for a lovely, leisurely trip through the beautiful countryside typical in this part of The Netherlands.

“Leisurely” is the operative word. The tram doesn’t set any speed records, and it stops at a couple of 19th century stations along the way – at Twisk and Opperdoes. The good news – there are plenty of treats available for purchase at these stops, chief among them superb ice cream.

The tram ride ends at Medemblik, where you board the ferry “Friesland”, built in 1956, to sail to Enkuizen and the Zuiderzee Museum.

No matter how much time you schedule at this museum, it probably won’t be enough, because this is a large, heritage village, with plenty of houses, barns, workshops, boutiques and, of course, the requisite windmill. Many of the buildings are occupied by costumed interpreters, going about their historic tasks of repairing fishing equipment, baking and cooking, running a heritage print shop, and much more. You’ll fill your camera’s digital memory with terrific photos here at the Zuiderzee Museum, if you haven’t done so already on the steam tram.

There is a second boat ride – on a much smaller ferry – from the museum to Enkhuizen itself, where you finish the day with a shorter train ride (a modern train, this time) back to Hoorn.

An iconic Dutch image of the steam tram.

I enjoyed every moment of the trip. Many of the folks involved in this historic project are volunteers, and they bring all of the enthusiasm – and the eagerness to talk about their hobby – that comes with such deep, personal investment. You’ll chat with the engineer, the conductor, and the “residents” at the Zuiderzee Museum – and most, if not all, are fluent in English (and probably three or four other languages, as well!)

When I rode the tram, one of the volunteers drove a vintage car along the roadway that ran parallel to the tracks, providing a perfect panorama that carried all the passengers back to another age, entirely.

At the Zuiderzee Museum, everything was intriguing, from the visit to the windmill to tasty stops at bakery shops. By the way – Dutch mills are different from those we may have known from our own, Ontario history. Ours ground grain for flour, or sawed lumber. Theirs moved water, plain and simply, transporting water from reclaimed land back into the sea. That process continues to this day, although now with highly sophisticated mechanical systems.

The amazing Zuidersee Museum, a living heritage village.

My favourite stop at the Museum was the print shop, run by a very enthusiastic man who told me of his long career in printing, and the joy he had in now experiencing the craft using materials from days long gone. I’ve been in the publishing industry since, approximately, the Jurassic age, so I could have spent hours just in this shop, discovering all of the long-forgotten tools of my own trade.

I’m pretty sure that everyone who rides the ferry to Enhuizen will have a similar experience – something in the Zuiderzee historic town will spark memories, perhaps reaching back generations.

This adventure actually comes at what I think is a bargain price – about 25 euros ($35 Canadian) for adults, 18.5 euros for kids 4-12 years. There are add-ons, of course – including, if you so choose – lunch at sea, on the Friesland, and other museums, especially in Hoorn and Medemblik. But while the lunch is nice, I wouldn’t suggest cramming your itinerary with other museum stops. The first Steam Tram leaves Hoorn at 10:40 a.m., and you need to get there from wherever your Holland home base is, that morning; you eventually arrive at the Zuiderzee Museum at 2:40 p.m., and you’ll want at least a couple of hours there before taking the modern train back to Hoorn, and finding your way back to home base.

It’s a full day – and a fascinating one. For all the information, check out

Paul Knowles is an author and travel writer. To contact Paul about travel, his books, or speaking engagements, email pknowles@golden.net.

Photos courtesy Hoorn Stoomtram.


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