Amsterdam & Bruges (2019)
In 2019 the Bach Choir mounted its fourth major tour in recent years (their first tours being in the 1970s to our twin towns of Marburg and Poitiers), with a week-long visit by just over fifty choir members to Amsterdam and Bruges, giving concerts in St Nicholas Grote Kirk, Monnickendam, and the English Church, Begijnhof, Amsterdam.

Predictably it took many hours to get from Northampton until being welcomed at our first hotel in Bruges. It was our misfortune to find ourselves on a ferry filled with excited and boisterous schoolchildren, but by a stroke of luck a few of us enjoyed the hospitality of the Lounge which was a most welcome escape for the duration of the voyage.

The Ibis Bruges Centrum was, as its name suggests, close to the centre of this beautiful city. We were able to take advantage of this by being able to get out and about before the crowds arrived. From the grandeur of the Church of Our Lady to the astonishing Belfry and Carillon, we were not disappointed with the sights and sounds of Bruges. A city traversed by canals and narrow streets serviced by immaculate horse and carriages, there is a bustling market square with numerous cafes, and shops selling everything from chocolate to interesting items of clothing that can only be described as “uninhibited”.
Bruges market
The Carillion, Bruges
Amsterdam - Canal View

Sadly, our time in Bruges was quickly over and we continued on to Alkmaar and The Golden Tulip hotel. During the short breaks on route we were advised to partake of various exercises including lunges to help the circulation. Needless to say we diligently carried these out at the roadside - much to the consternation of passers- by! The journey took us across the flat landscape that is so typical of the region and from the number of wind turbines it was clear that this was one of the modern methods of electricity production.

The old city of Alkmaar has many Medieval buildings and places of interest (including a Beatles Museum) but with our busy schedule, it was not possible to do much exploring. The hotel was close to the AFAS Stadium where AZ Alkmaar play in the top Dutch League (we are reliably informed!).

The next day we travelled to Amsterdam and enjoyed an extremely informative boat trip along the canals before being able to spend a couple of hours sightseeing. We were blessed with glorious sunshine and indeed this weather continued for the remainder of the trip. The smell of Cannabis was overpowering at times but the main danger was from the cyclists who sped along in all directions with no obvious concern for anyone else, with neither helmet nor bicycle bell!
Choir at Amsterdam's English Church
Our Concert Programme
Ivan at the Console - Monnickendam

Our next stop was at an extremely commercial enterprise at Alida Hoeve for a spot of cheese and clog appreciation (as you do in Holland!). We did, however, enjoy the free samples and a few purchases were made before continuing on a rather circuitous route to Volendam.

Volendam is on the shores of a large inland lake and although originally a traditional fishing village, has now been developed into a holiday destination. Although the harbour area was busy with a karaoke in full swing, it was still possible to escape the crowds and sit on the shore with a takeaway watching the yachts scudding about on the horizon.

Our first concert of the tour followed that evening at Monickendam, in the St Nicholas RC Kerk, where we were made to feel welcome by a small but appreciative audience. The programme included the music of Parry, his teachers and his pupils. The walk to and from the church gave us an opportunity to have a brief look at the 14th Century town which historically, owing to its coastal location, developed a thriving shipping industry. However, the cobbles and large deep drainage gullies at the edge of the road presented a challenge to us in the dark!

It was back to Amsterdam the following morning for a lunchtime concert, with a similar programme at the English Church in the Begijnhof. Having overcome the challenge of finding the venue, we were rewarded both by the setting of the church, within a sanctuary of elegant houses around a green, and another successful concert to a select audience.

The rest of the day was for us to enjoy independently. The more organised among us visited some of the museums and galleries, whilst others wandered by the canals, took in the many sights and sounds and absorbed the atmosphere of this splendid city. For most of the group this was a very long day but some of us decided to sample public transport and took a train back to Alkmaar, and had a leisurely evening at the hotel.
Amsterdam bridge at night
The English Church, Begijnhof
Keukenhof Gardens

Our last day found us at the Keukenhof Gardens, at the peak of the Tulip season which really was a spectacle to behold. Despite the vast numbers of visitors, there was an unusual calmness about the place, and no sense of urgency. Needless to say there were lots of photographs taken!

Our last stop was close by Leiden, another interesting historic city with numerous museums and landmarks, and particularly well known for being the birthplace of Rembrandt. Leiden also boasts the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, and was at one time the stop-off for the Pilgrim Fathers on their travels to the New World. Sadly, time and energy was short and we barely scratched the surface of Leiden’s gems before returning to our hotel. Spirits were later revived with an excellent communal meal at the De Buren restaurant in Alkmaar – a nice opportunity to relax with all our friends and reminisce about our adventures!

After a very long journey back through Holland, Belgium and France, it was wonderful to see the white cliffs of Dover, and the green of the beautiful Kent countryside! It was truly a weary band of travellers arriving back in Northampton, but a good time was had by all and many thanks to David for organising us!