River IJ Harbour Tour
Base for a City Break in April 2016 was the excellent Room Mate Hotel Aitana which is located several hundred meters west, of the city's main railway station, on the IJdock. In addition to the hotel, this artificial peninsula on the south bank of the IJ hosts offices, apartments, a marina, a base for the river police unit and the Palace of Justice. We had a great room on the top floor of the inland side which overlooked the city.
Throughout the centuries the landscape of the province of North Holland, in which Amsterdam is situated, has undergone many drastic changes in an ongoing battle between land and water. Although most people refer to the IJ as a river, this nationally important water corridor is actually more akin to an inlet, bay or shallow lake, but for simplicity I'll refer to it as the River IJ.
The IJ is one of Europe's busiest waterways, connecting the Port of Amsterdam with the North Sea to the west, via the North Sea Canal, and the rest of the continent's interior via the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal to the east. The IJ is managed by the Rijkswaterstaat, part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, rather than by the municipality of Amsterdam.
The waterway features a never-ending nautical parade: anything from tiny dinghies to lengthy cruise ships, from expensive yachts to magnificent tall ships, and from glass-topped tour boats to cargo ships, tugs and dredgers.
These views were taken from the front of Aitana hotel. The one on the right shows how close it is to the arches of Amsterdam`s main railway station - a leisurely 10-15 minute stroll. Many of the ferries and tourist craft depart from the piers in front of the complex.
Tourists and locals alike use the free ferries that weave their way in between the other vessels to cross the IJ. On the opposite side from the main departure point is Amsterdam-North. Once a place where no true Amsterdammer would want to be, it's now a sought-after district with a great mixture of cultural hotspots, nature areas, and modern urban developments. GVB operates 6 ferry routes, served by eleven ferries, which currently convey more than 15 million passengers per year. The free service costs €10 million Euro a year to operate.
Often overlooked by travel guides, there’s a wealth of entertainment to be found on and around the north side of the river. It's banks are home to attractions including the world-renowned EYE Film Museum, world-class music venues and a growing number of restaurants.
The EYE preserves and presents both Dutch and foreign films screened in the Netherlands and holds around 37,000 film titles, 60,000 posters, 700,000 photographs and 20,000 books in its archive. The earliest materials date from the start of the film industry in the Netherlands which began in 1895. The striking building was designed by Delugan Meissl architects and was officially opened by Queen Beatrix on April 4, 2012.
In April 2016, I took a 90 minute cruise around Amsterdam Harbour. The tour boat leaves from the pier outside the city's main railway station at 1200 and 1400hrs daily with more sailings during the peak summer season. I found the harbour tour more interesting than expected and worth doing even if you're not particularly interested in ships or local history. It's a relaxing way to see the city from different viewpoint, especially on a fine day, and gives visitors the chance to check out a couple of wacky hotels and apartment blocks.
Despite appearances, Magnifique II is not an elderly steam ship but a 63 metre-long barge built in 2015. She can accommodate up to 35 guests in comfort and cruises between Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels. The ship`s official website has more information. Click here to view.
Right: This memorial to the Dutch merchant seaman who died during the Second World War stands on the River IJ (pronounced `eye`) waterfront.
Previously named Atlantis, the ex-Pilot Tender Meander V is available for charter. Built in 1997, she assisted ships in and out of the Port of Rotterdam until the following year when she struck a buoy on the Maas estuary and was written-off. Her new owners carried out extensive renovation work in 2002 which included replacing the superstucture.
Amsterdam, Holland's largest city, continues to suffer a housing shortage with long waiting lists for subsidised housing, and property prices for private properties at a premium. Previously derelict industrial areas, former warehouses and factories have been converted and entire new communities have been transformed from former industrial parks and shipping wharfs into high-density residential zones.
From across the waters of the Westerdoksdijk, Silodam (above left) looks like a stack of multi-coloured shipping containers or giant Lego pieces. It is, in fact, a massive housing block suspended on tripod-style pylons. The old dock upon which the building rests was originally used for storing and shipping grain, hence the name, “Silodam”. Two of the old grain silos are still standing on the site and the new structure was designed by MVRDV, one of Holland’s most innovative and imaginative architecture firms. At Silodam, they created vertical “neighbourhoods” within the ten-story block of 157 residential units, offices and public spaces.
A 1964 Dutch pirate radio outpost set high up on a sea platform has been relocated and restored into a unique restaurant and office building off the coast of Amsterdam. REM-Island by Concrete Architects is a red and white-checkered reclaimed building that stands above the IJ River on 40-foot stilts.
The pirate radio broadcasting REM-Island was built in 1964 outside territorial waters in order to avoid Dutch legislation. Constructed completely out of steel, the 262-foot-high structure rests on 6 columns. It housed radio and TV broadcast stations, but it only lasted four months before federal police took over the island, dismantled it and brought it back to the shore.
The historic tower has been renovated into a novel building that stands on stilts over the water and offers amazing 360-degree views over the NDSM Wharf and the center of Amsterdam. REM-Island houses a restaurant on two floors, office space and a large open terrace situated on a former helicopter platform. Access to the platform is provided via a steel footbridge on the shore that guides visitors through the enormous construction. To ensure the island retained its original atmosphere, Concrete Architects preserved and renovated - original features including footbridges; signal lights, railings, and they even included a lifeboat.
The Faralda Crane Hotel, on the north bank of the river IJ, on the site of the historic NDSM Wharf, offers "three of the most spacious and high end suites at the top of the highest crane hotel in the world" - I didn't realise there were others! If the Faralda's guests get fed up admiring the view staff can always arrange a bungee jump!
Situated at the widest point of the IJ, the 350-berth Amsterdam Marina opened in 2013 and now hosts one of the country`s major Boat Shows every September. It`s most striking feature is its futuristic harbour office.
Amsterdam has a Maritime Museum which was closed to the public for the duration of my trip as it was a venue for an EU ministers` conference. However, various historic vessels are moored on the old NDSM site which was formerly Amsterdam's largest shipyard. Over the last ten years the location has been steadily transformed into a trendy area which hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, with bars, restaurants, artists' studios and workshops, The easiest way to reach this spot, known as the Maritime Quarter, from downtown Amsterdam is to take the free ferry, signed NDSM, at the back of Amsterdam Central Station. The journey only takes around 10 minutes.
Visible from many point along the river, the Amstel Botel is a floating 175-room 3* star hotel. Each of the huge ' loft letters' on deck is actually a room, conceived and decorated by a different international designer. The letter E has a widescreen cinema bedroom which can stream movies direct from the Eye Film Institute while the letter B even has a halfpipe for skateboarders! Standard double rooms below deck start at €80 Euro per night.
The majestic 3-masted tall ship Pollux was formerly a maritime training vessel but following extensive restoration, has operated as a cafe/ restaurant since 2006. She was bought by the owners of the Botel in May 2015. Local Tug `Port of Amsterdam 5` is pictured below.
Left: This Dutch-built tug dates from 1946 and following completion was delivered to the Netherlands Government as a pilot boat Zeezwaluw. In 1951 she was sold to NV Holland Nautic at Haarlem and renamed Elis. In 1952 the Belgian Navy, bought the vessel and changed her name to Sub-Lieutenant Valcke. She was converted for military use and took up station in West Africa at the Congolese port of Banana. In 1982 she was sold to a Dutch shipbroker, after which she changed hands several times with the respective owners calling her Linge and IJzeren Vrijer. She reverted to Elis prior to her return to Amsterdam.
Damen operates more than 32 shipyards, repair yards and related companies worldwide, several of which are passed on the IJ harbour cruise. Damen was established in 1927 and is still a family run business.
Since 1969, Damen has designed and built more than 5,000 vessels and delivers up to 150 vessels annually, most of which are tugs, workboats and other small craft. Past customers have included the Canadian, Ecuadorian, Vietnam and Trinidad & Tobago Coastguards, the Hong Kong Police and Jamaica Defence Force.
Above: Lost against unavoidable background clutter in this view is the passenger ship Rex-Rheni. She is owned by SAGA Cruises who refurbished the vessel in 2015.
A couple of `rust buckets`: The coaster Orion is on the right but I was unable to see a name on the blue-hulled vessel which looks like a fishing boat.
Amsterdam is the last place you'd expect to find an ex-Soviet Cold War era attack sub, however, this one was purchased by local entrepreneurs some time ago who hoped to turn it into a party venue! The venture fell through and it has since become a blank canvas for local graffiti artists as well as a popular perch with the local cormorant population.
Project 611 (NATO name: Zulu-class) were one of the first Soviet post-war attack submarines with their design heavily influenced by the German Type XXI U-boat of World War II. The general compliment was 70 officers and men. Twenty-six boats were built overall, entering service from 1952 to 1957, 8 of them in Leningrad and 18 in Severodvinsk. Six were converted in the mid-1950s to become the world's first ballistic missile submarines. Most were eventually scrapped following retirement.
HNLMS Mahu (M880) is a van Straelen-class Inshore Minesweeper which were built during the Cold War to patrol Dutch river estuaries. The vessels were soon nicknamed 'Dinky Toys' due to their diminutive size. Their sole armament was 1 x 20 mm Oerlikon gun. Mahu was named in honour of Pieter Mahu, a Dutch Navy pilot, shot down and killed by Japanese aircraft on 24 Feb 1942 during the Battle of the Java Sea. For his heroism, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Cross, one of Holland's highest military decorations. Following the wooden minesweeper's decommissioning in 1986 a group of former Navy personnel adopted her and carried out restoration work. She is now open to the public and hosts numerous groups, including school classes.
Radio Veronica was an independent offshore radio station which began broadcasting in 1960 and continued to do so for over fourteen years. Providing an alternative to the Netherlands state-licensed stations in Hilversum, the original Radio Veronica went on to become the country's most popular station.
It originally broadcast from a former lightship Borkum Riff anchored off the Dutch coastline but in August 1964 the station acquired a new ship, the fishing trawler MV Norderney, pictured here. She was fitted with a more efficient antenna and a 10-kilowatt transmitter, as well as an anchor designed to keep her correctly oriented. The Norderney took over Veronica's broadcasts in November of that year and remained the station's transmission ship until 31 August 1974.
MV Norderney was built in Hamburg in 1949 as the MV Paul J Müller (HH 294) and fished the waters around Iceland until 1956. In July of that year she was sold to Lower Saxony Deep Sea Fishing Ltd and re-named Norderney (NC 420).
In 1960 the vessel was sold to a Dutch company for scrapping but in early 1964 she was bought by the Radio Veronica management but, In spite of popular support for off-shore radio stations, new laws were introduced that made transmitting from sea - even in international waters- a crime. On 31 August 1974 at 18:00hrs Radio Veronica ceased her transmissions. Norderney subsequently ended up in Amsterdam where she became a 'disco ship' for a time, acting as a nightclub at various locations around Holland.
Kapitien Anna was built in the Netherlands in 1911 by J & K Smit at Krimpen-aan-de-Lek. She originally plied the River Lek between Culemborg and Rotterdam and, renamed Kurplaz, also did a spell in Germany, operating as a floating restaurant on the Rhine. She returned to the Netherlands for restoration in 1976 and was renamed Kapitein Kok after her last Captain. She re-entered service in June the following year, based at Amsterdam, and maintained a regular programme until 1980. Renamed Kapitein Anna after being taken over by the luxury sailing ship builder Quo Vadis in 2013, she was refurbished and now operates as a high-end restaurant and live entertainment venue.
Trinity House Light Vessel 94 (LV 94) was built by Phillip & Son, Dartmouth, in 1939. She was decommissioned in 1990, following a career protecting shipping in the Irish Sea. She has been moored in Amsterdam since 2008 and although her exterior hasn't changed the interior has been completely changed to make the vessel suitable for meetings, weddings and other functions. I believe you can even arrive on deck by helicopter!
Polarcus Nadia (below) is one of seven vessels in the Polarcus fleet. Built by Drydocks World Dubai in 2009, she is a 3D/4D seismic survey vessel. Polarcus Nadia currently sails under the flag of The Bahamas.
Sea Installer is an Offshore Wind Turbine Installation Jack-up Vessel. Ordered by a Danish company, she was built in 2012 in China by the Beijing-based COSCO Shipyard Group in a contract worth US$139 million dollars. She is able to jack-up at water depths of up to 45 metres (148 ft) with a loading capacity of 5000 tons which is equivalent to eight to ten offshore wind turbines. The on board crane can lift objects up to a maximum of 900 tons.
Back on the south side of the water are docks which receive cargoes from ocean-going bulk carriers...
Much of the deliveries are of soya beans which are processed on site for animal feed prior to distribution. (A neutral graduated filter would have been handy for the shot above left!).
The bulker Beskidy (above) was built by the Tsuneishi Tadotsu shipyard in Japan in 2013. She currently sails under a Liberian flag and is managed and owned by a Polish shipping company. Coincidently Rising Wind is a product of the same manufacturer having been built a year later, although she is owned by Tokyo-based NS United Marine. Iolcos Vision was built in Shanghai and sails under the flag of Malta.
Mei Hua Hai is also the product of Shanghai shipbuilders. She is another fairly new vessel having been built in 2013 and is owned and managed by COSCO Bulk Carriers of Tianjin, China. She is 254 metres-long with a grosse tonnage of almost 65,000 tons (115,198 dwt).
On the north bank of the Ij, to the east of the EYE Film Institute, a couple of Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs) had tied up at the quayside, namely Vos Sugar and Vos Symphony. The tug Apex was up on the stocks at the adjacent Damen dry dock. The UK-flagged Tug, is usually found working in the Solent around the Fawley Oil Terminal. I last photographed her there in November 2015.
The following slideshow shows just a small example of the vessels that ply the IJ...
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