Holland Tour May 2016

                                                        Author Peter F


The Holland trip is a favourite event within the club, fulfilling two main purposes. Primarily it is a superb social event, when club members (and sometimes guests) can socialise in a relaxed atmosphere and in a different environment for a few days, and re-charge their batteries. Secondly, the aquatic outlets in Holland are generally of a better standard to those found on the home shores, both in variety of fish and selection of aquatic plants, so our common hobby-interest is fully satisfied.

This spring trip was mentioned in meetings at the beginning of the year, and by March the dates had been agreed and the participants enrolled. Planning, as such, was not necessary, as we would be travelling the tried and tested route, and visiting our regular aquatic retailers.

Come April and, with no further additions to the group, Pete now confirmed bookings for ferry and hotels  – we are all set, until . . . . .

At the eleventh hour, our normal itinerary for this trip had to be amended. Graeme had found four new shops on the internet, which we might try out, if we could manage to fit them in. Conveniently, these shops, with the exception of a small detour to Den Haag, are situate adjacent to our regular planned route, and therefore our overall mileage and travelling time would not be unduly affected, although with more shops to fit in, our time spent at each stop would need to be more disciplined.

We agree to try out all four shops on this trip, and the itinerary is amended accordingly; this will now be a slightly busier trip, but with an additional uncertain anticipation.

What will the new shops bring? How will they compare? Time will tell.

Eve of Trip

Returning home from work, this evening is scheduled to be a calm pre trip preparation. . . but we’re in the middle of having new double glazing fitted, and my plans have been disrupted by the necessity to move furniture, dismantle curtain fittings etc., so it’s late evening before I start to gather up incidentals for the trip, such as camera, spare sat-nav., checking compulsory Euro travel kit for car, and so on; fortunately I had already packed my bag the previous weekend. Eventually all sorted, time to hit the hay, ready for an early start. What could possibly go wrong ??

Day One

I awaken early in the morning, knowing the need to get up early, and open my eyes to check how long until the alarm goes off. . . ***%%@**  The alarm hasn’t gone off –  it’s already 25 minutes after due time – just as well I had planned a leisurely start and allowed extra time – I leap out of bed.

In the bathroom, just in case the normal workday routine should have kicked in – and to save from disturbing the household at this early hour – my clothes were already laid out for the day – inclusive of the club shirt as a reminder, if required, not to head off to work.

Every morning starts off with a quick cup of tea to set me up for the day, and today was planned to be no different. At this time of year, it’s already light outside, and being up early, I had intended to  listen in on  the birds’ early morning chorus  whilst downing the cuppa. Yes, the birds have started their chorus, but no time for that now, I gulp a mouthful of tea and head to the door.


I leave the house quietly, board the ‘tour bus’ and with a full tank of diesel, the Holland trip has begun.

On the road – first pick up Graeme .. .


then on down to Cliffe Woods by 5.30 a.m.  (I’m back on schedule), where Pete, Paul and Alan await collection. Nearly there, another calamity, I realise I have forgotten to bring tea bags – an essential when travelling abroad. We grab some tea bags before Pete closes the door.

Passports … Check  …..Money…..Check …Sat Nav. .. Check  … Bookings … Check,

everybody is present and correct so we set off down the A2 to the Port of Dover to catch the 07.35 sailing to Calais.

Despite some initial banter, [it really is too early for Graeme’s humour], the early hour soon catches up and quiet descends in the rear of the bus as we trundle down the road. The traffic on the A2(M2) is surprisingly light and we make good time; it is a bright morning, and with the sun lying low, I need sunglasses, even at this early hour, to combat the glare; we make it down to Dover in good time and await embarkation.

Time (U.K.):   06.45      Mileage:  78

Hopes for the trip are briefly discussed on board ship, over a ‘fill your boots’ full English breakfast – we won’t be eating again until the evening. We ponder the possibilities for the ‘debut’ shops and our expectations for our regular outlets. Last year we had noticed, in general, a drop in quantity of aquatic plants available – was this an oddity and we would now again see an abundance of plants or would it prove to be a new (economically led) trend.

With eager anticipation of the upcoming days and suitably nourished, we await disembarkation: we are in the last lane to be let off ship, so slip a little behind schedule.

Time (Euro):  10.25

From the Port of Calais, the Satnav. is programmed for our first shop some 130 miles distant – the first of the four ‘debutant’ shops planned  for this trip – the Antwerp Cichliden Center in Merksem (just the far side of Antwerp on route to Rotterdam).

The drive quickly takes us out of France and into Belgium, where we travel through low-lying flat polder land, with a mixture of dairy and agricultural farming in evidence. We travel in glorious sunshine, although this goes unnoticed by the nodding dogs and fly catchers in the back of the bus, as the passengers make up for their missed sleep. On the plus side, this gives us some respite from Graeme’s humour. Only the two Petes, driver and navigator, have a purpose to block out sleep.

Approaching Antwerp, our normal route would see us cut off before the Kennedy Tunnel onto a toll road, thus avoiding the heavy traffic. Alas, as our first destination today lies just beyond the Tunnel, that is where we head and the traffic creeps forward at a snail’s pace for a couple of miles until we eventually clear the Tunnel and shortly thereafter find the exit to Merksem. Here we spend some time driving around in circles as we try with difficulty to overcome one way systems and No Entry signs – Pete (nav.) excels and finds a way to our first shop. (Pete takes mental note to update the Satnav.)

Time (Euro):  13.15      Mileage:  213


Unfortunately, the website for this shop was in Belgian, and no doubt by our error, was not the expansive retail outlet we had believed; probably more on the mail order side. However, the stock that was on show was of good quality and the small array of tanks in tip-top condition, but not what we were looking for.

Back on the bus again (13.25) for the next leg, just 47 miles up the road to Zwijndrecht, near Dordrecht, in Holland, to the second debut shop ‘Aquafizz’.  We make good time on the road despite very heavy lorry traffic and arrive at a quiet square with ample parking for the surrounding shops.

We note three café/restaurants and one bar side by side just along from our target outlet.

Time (Euro):  14.15       Mileage:  262


This shop was more to our liking and after some time investigating the various tanks, Alan decided against some angels but bought some plants and Graeme found a lone Goby (sp. unspecified).

Our morale partially restored, we now head on to one of our mainstay shops, Verduijn Cichlids in Zeevenhuisen, a shop which has been an ever-present on our tour itinerary for many years. It is not far to travel and we soon arrive at our familiar third shop. Time (Euro):   15.06     Mileage:  277


Verduijn Cichlids

Catharina is a most welcoming host and always looks after us well, conversing freely as with old friends and personally overseeing the bagging up and payment of our purchases.

The entrance opens into the dry goods and coffee bar area, before leading through to the main fish room – boy is it warm in here! Up and down the banks of tanks we all look for our favoured fish.

Here, there is a very large choice and it is noted that the selection of non-cichlid fish has increased further since our previous visit, just last October.

Alan finds some nice Black Mollies [Poecilia sphenops] (for Ron) and from the side room, he soon takes a liking to some more plants. Graeme helps himself to a large group of Bleeding Heart Tetras [Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma], whilst I find some Apistogramma cacatuoides (orange) and old favourites Kribs [Pelvicachromis pulcher].

Catharina sorts us out with our purchases and saying our goodbyes, we leave with a promise to return again in our autumn trip in October.

From Zeevenhuisen, we only need to drive a further 18 miles to reach our overnight stop at the

                   Time (Euro):   16.30           Mileage: 293

Hotel de Emausport.

Delft is a lovely City, being the Royal City of Holland and from where, it goes without saying, we get Delft Chinaware. Our Hotel, also a regular in our itinerary, is cited just off the main square, behind the ‘New Church’. The ‘New Church’, formerly the church of St. Ursula  dates from the 14th century – the current tower having been built between 1396 – 1496 – so it’s not ‘new’ as in modern, but as opposed to the ‘Old Church’ (built circa 1240) found only a couple of squares away. The New Church (housing the Royal crypts) sits at one end of the main square with the impressive town hall at the other end. Around the square are found numerous restaurants, bars and delftware / cheese shops etc. and the main square becomes a busy daytime marketplace.

The hotel manager is sitting outside with his wife enjoying the afternoon sunshine and gives us a wave and gets up as he sees our bus approaching. Welcoming us warmly he books us into our rooms.  As has become customary, we are allowed to store any poly-boxes in a space downstairs and we soon make our way out to explore the main square to busily effect our purchases.

Having arrived in Delft a little earlier than usual many market-stalls are still operating with some just starting to be taken down. The surrounding shops are all still open and after a few hasty purchases, we depart the old town area and head for Aquariumhaus Romberg, just a ten minute walk away. Half way there, Pete decides to stop at a bar “Bierhuis de Klomp” (another regular haunt on this trip) and imbibe some rehydrating refreshment whilst awaiting our return.

Watering Hole

Rombergs was previously a regular on our tour, but prices now seem a little higher, probably due to overheads. However, as time allows, we have a look in hope to find something a little different to the norm. On this occasion, Graeme found a nice lace plant, which we had not seen elsewhere.

We return to re-join Pete and enjoy a beer (coffee for Paul ??) or three to quench our thirst from a long hard day. As we drink we un-wind and jovial conversation covers a range of subjects. At length, no doubt concerned about settling in any new fish, Paul questions the water parameters in the shops in Holland.

Paul:  “What’s the water like here ?”

As quick as a flash, Pete replies: “Wet ! “

We are clearly not in the mood for any serious discussion, and eventually we leave to look for a restaurant for our evening meal, without returning to the hotel. Finding a restaurant for the evening meal isn’t difficult, with a good choice both around the main square (more expensive) and beyond, in neighbouring streets and squares (cheaper). We soon find a restaurant on the main square, and settle down to translate the menu before ordering. As always, there is no language problem with the staff and we are well looked after by our waitress.

Returning to the hotel, we settle into some comfy chairs for a nightcap before heading off to our rooms. Apparently a Geneva (or two) can aid a good night’s sleep. (Pete)

Day Two

Next morning, as ever, Graeme and myself are the first to be up and about and partake of an early morning stroll around town, returning for breakfast at 07.00 a.m.

Breakfast in the morning is a self-service buffet style, with a range of choices to cater for different tastes. The (English) tea bags we brought along come into their own, as tea not being the drink of choice in Holland, more delicate or fruit teas are offered, rather than the stronger teas. Despite still feeling satisfied by last evening’s meal, once again we are not intending to replenish our digestive systems until the evening, so all are encouraged to have sufficient to manage their own nourishment requirements for the day.

Over breakfast, Paul bemoans the caterwauling of a cat in the courtyard, which disturbed his sleep throughout the night. Whilst this had been heard by all, it was only a major issue for Paul who has developed a major aversion to cats. Meow   Meow.

Pete expresses concern over rush hour traffic congestion in Den Haag we decide to skip that new shop this time around and try to fit it into the October trip at a better time of day. We also change the order of route, visiting Almere before Hilversum.

After settling our room bills, it’s time to fetch the bus from the overnight underground parking and load up. From Delft we now drive out to Almere to visit our first shop of the day.

It is another warm and sunny day, and like yesterday, those in the rear seats doze off – two nodding dogs and one fly-catcher (Paul).

There is extensive development to the road network in Holland, with new motorways under construction and shortly after passing Schipol airport, we hit a resulting traffic jam and slow to a crawl for a while. Delays in the other direction seem even worse and we are aware that we must return back down this road when finished in Almere.

Finally we reach Aqua Ferrytale, where once again we are recognised and warmly greeted, and coffees are offered.                                                        Time (Euro):   10.25 a.m.     Mileage: 348


Allan in search of the elusive…………………..Altum….
….here they are Al






As usual, there is plenty to look at in the well-stocked tanks and Paul is tempted at last by a pair of Pelvicachromis taeniatus (malli). I choose a trio of Nannacara Anomala and select some plants, while Alan finds a group of Corydoras and Graeme adds a further group of Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma. 

We make our goodbyes and get back aboard the bus.

Mindful of the earlier traffic problems we make a snap decision to also give a miss to the new shop on the other side of Almere, which again we will ensure to try out in the October trip.

So hitting the road again, now back on familiar route, we head for the ‘Bunker’ alias De Riftwachter in Hilversum, some 55 miles distant. Our snap decision quickly proved to be needless, as the satnav. took us back on a different road and we sailed through in quick time without holdups, putting us now  well ahead of schedule.

Time (Euro):  12.20          Mileage:    371

DE Riftwachter – top deck restaurant and pond, first basement -supplies, fresh and marines, second basement undergoing refurb (2016-2017)


We all feel that De Riftwachter, on this visit, is not at the same standards as previous years, although Alan finds a Flying Fox (Crossocheilus siamensis), Clown Loach (Botia macracanthus)  and some more Black Mollies  (for Ron).

As we are so far ahead of schedule, we change the normal routine and stop in the open air restaurant at the top of the bunker enjoying a break for lunch in the sunshine before continuing on the tour.

Well fed and rested, we leave Hilversum and now set out for Amersfoort. It’s not too far to travel and we arrive at Utaka

 Time (Euro):    13.52            Mileage:  391

Utaka – It also has a basement with many gems


Utaka usually offers something to interest our group, but this trip it is another shop which disappoints and in twenty minutes we are back aboard. Still with time in hand, we seek out another shop in the locality, which we had visited a couple of times in the past. It is only five minutes distant, but after battling with new road systems (we know already, the satnav. needs updating), we arrive at our objective: . . .Time (Euro):  14.28  ,  only to find the shop has closed down. Pete deletes the shop from his records. This leaves us just one more shop to visit for today and we set off for Nijmegen.

This leg is a fair drive of some fifty miles, and once again sleep descends for a while in the rear seats. It is still very warm and the air-con is not doing much to help. Fuel reserves are running low and we top up with diesel on the way and arrive at De Maanvis where again we are recognised and welcomed by the familiar staff.

            Time (Euro):  16.10        Mileage:    446

De Maanvis plant bank


The tanks at De Maanvis are usually totally bare, so the fish have a washed out look and you need to keep in mind that they will look much better when they settle into a planted / decorated tank at home.

Again there is a large area for plants running the width of the spacious shop although, as was the case last October, not so excessively stocked as in years past.

Nevertheless, several nice plants are found and purchased and for the first time on this trip Alan finds a quintet of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare).

With our final purchases made for the day, we move on to our hotel for the night. Leaving De Maanvis, we make our way to the Hotel Courage, a new hotel for us, as our usual night-time refuge in Nijmegen had been fully booked. This was an older, refurbished building, unlike the modern building of the Hotel Mercure (our usual overnight refuge), but was still adequate for our needs, and again the manager found a secure space on the ground floor for us to store our poly-boxes.

Having enjoyed our needed rehydration at the bar (first drink on the house), we have time for a quick wash and change before heading out for dinner. There are a selection of restaurants nearby and we are soon seated for a meal al fresco, on what is another very bright and warm evening.

The waitress takes our order without writing down and with a sense of déjà vu, Pete recounts a previous experience and challenges the waitress not to make an error – bringing about an abrupt review of the order. All goes well with the drinks – four beers and one latte (Paul) – and the starters, but after waiting some time for the main course it arrives at last. Three meals are served first and Paul is just ready to tuck in when it is realised these plates were intended for the next table – ooops. Pete looks for our waitress to claim a forfeit, but she has finished her shift and other waitresses are on duty.

Eventually the correct meals arrive and other than Alan claiming the wrong meal – obviously the hearing aid wasn’t turned on, (medium rare isn’t the Dutch equivalent for well done), and we enjoy the evening whilst watching the boats and barges sailing up and down the Rhine.

The night is quite peaceful – no screaming cats in evidence – and after a final nightcap (Pete could get used to a nightly Geneva) we head up to our rooms.

Day Three

An early start is the order for our last day on tour, as we will spend considerable time at our first stop and still intend to leave time for a second shop before hitting the road for Calais and home.

Once again Graeme and myself are up and about early and get the boxes packed into the van before the others come down at the pre-agreed time – and we breakfast quickly to get on the road again.

Breakfast is finished by 08.00 a.m. and bills paid up-front the previous evening, we set off for the area of Handel and the ‘must visit’ Aquabeek,  aiming to arrive as close as possible to opening time (Saturday 09.00) which hopefully should also allow us to have business finished before the shop gets too busy.

No change in the weather – sunny and warm – we have a good run down to Handel and arrive ahead of schedule

                                                                    Time (Euro):    08.50       Mileage: 480

One of the many rows of quaduple stack tanks at Aquabeek


Aquabeek is the highlight of the tour, being the biggest outlet and with the widest selection of fish.

Especially with a restricted time-frame, it is a certainty that a lot will be missed / overlooked, but after a quick general look around, we each then concentrate on the areas containing our preferred species.

A further problem is the heat in the fish-house and every now and then we go outside to cool down in the fresh air.

Graeme finally finds some suitable Sterbai (Corydoras sterbai) {for Tom},  Alan picks out a group of ten Congo tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus)  and I go for a trio of mouthbrooders (Pseudovrenilabrus nicholsi) and a trio of Rams (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi).

As we leave Aquabeek, a sensation of ‘end of tour blues’ seems to prevail, even before we’ve hit the last shop. All aboard once more, we now have the Satnav. set for the Aquarium Coenen in Best.

It’s not far to drive and we soon pull up outside.

A couple of very happy chappies – The Nav and the Driver

                                                                        Time (Euro):   11.20         Mileage: 502

In previous years this has always afforded a splendid choice of aquarium plant, for any who prefer to leave their plant acquisitions to the last day for preservation of condition – provided we have time for the visit. There isn’t an abundance of plants on display, although the quality as ever, is very good. The fish  display is mainly the bread and butter varieties, although there is always a tendency here for some more unusual fish to also be found.  Today, just some plants are purchased, until Graeme finishes off with a batch of Melon barbs (Haludaria fasciata) just before we depart.

That’s it !    All over !   If there were any missed opportunities that’s too bad –  they will just have to wait until the next trip  (Not to worry, October is only another five months away).

All aboard once more, we hit the road again for the long trek back to Calais.

 As has been the trait throughout this trip, it is very warm in the van (note to self – must get the air con checked out) and there is more dozing than lively banter – not the norm for a Holland trip. Not only is the sun still shining, but we are also lucky with the traffic, and make good time all the way. After a short refreshment break in Belgium, we carry on through to reach Calais in good time for the ferry home due out at 16.05.

                                                                                     Time (Euro):   15.15       Mileage: 688

It’s much colder and quite windy at Calais, but it’s not long to wait until we board.

Unusually, the mood on board is very subdued , so much so that Pete sleeps most of the way back – we all now just want to get home. Our wishes are answered as the ferry docks just about on time, we are among the first off, and the roads are fairly clear.

Time (UK): 17.37          Mileage: 743

We arrive back at Cliffe Woods                   

There is no sorting out of fish to do, as we all have our own poly-boxes and we start our farewells. Paul unfortunately finds his car has been knocked while away – annoying even if it is a company car.

Having dropped off Graeme I arrive back home, and the trip is finally done.

                                                                                    Time (UK):  18.27     Mileage:  766


The new acquisitions are happily exploring their new surroundings. I lost my first fish in 12  years of Holland trips, one of the kribs, but it can be replaced locally easily enough. There are no other casualties reported.

The new shops: Antwerp Cichliden Center has already been crossed off our list and Aquafizz in Zwijndrecht is not advanced to the main list of shops, but details retained for possible occasional inclusion in future (if gap appears). The two new shops not visited will be visited in the October trip.

What we learned: Paul has a bad addiction to coffee (latte…. even more so ‘frothy’ latte) and has now developed a severe aversion to cats. Meow !       And by the way.  .  .  . the water in Holland is wet.

Whilst a few of the shops on our regular tour have slipped from their normal standards, they still outshine our regular outlets in the UK, and the plant selection still also excels in comparison, although stocks not being so abundant.

As we know, the Holland trip is mostly a social event, providing an enjoyable break from routine. As such this trip was once again a great success.

Next trip October 13 – 15   –  Bring it on !