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  1. #1
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    Experience with "Vrienden op de Fiets" in Holland?

    Hi all-

    After four years of shortish (5-12 day) tours in New England and Eastern Canada, my family has finally taken the plunge and bought tickets this August for a two week trip to Holland.

    It's time to make a crucial decision: should we camp (as usual) or stay indoors? I am highly intrigued by the Vrienden op de Fiets program, an extensive network of inexpensive B&Bs in people's homes catering to cyclists and hikers only. (See the English-language homepage on http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl.)

    I'd love to know what experiences people have had. I know that we would need to book ahead much more than we normally like, but we are already planning on short days to maximize opportunity for exploring on and off the bike. Bad weather, wind, last night's burritto, etc. should not be too hard to accommodate with short days scheduled.

    Here are a few basic questions. Please chime in with any other suggestions/comments/etc.

    1) Suggestions on how early to book? I've made a few calls, but it seems to be too early. These are people's homes, not regular businesses. I'm not looking for last-minute arrangements. I'm just not sure how early is too early.

    2) Obviously August is a busy time for vacations. Any feeling for whether it will be hard to find open rooms? Will all the part-time inn keepers be on vacation themselves?

    3) Does the program overall have a good reputation overall? I'm sure it's well known among European tourers. It's mentioned in all the guide books.

    4) Did it work well for you or people you know?

    Thank you in advance for the information.

    See you someday on the road.

    Jim

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    I didn't know it existed up till now, but i've read up on a few Dutch forums about it
    they are all very positive about the program, its cheap, its fun, you will probably learn much more about the country from these locals than you would in a hotel
    it does appear some hosts require you to have the membership card, but overall the rules are not very strict, sometimes you get a nice apartment on your own with great breakfast, sometimes its just a childrens bedroom next to the hosts room, sometimes you share the table with other cyclists, you never really know
    most people seem to call just 1 or 2 days up front, sometimes the same day is possible too; and if they don't have a room there are still plenty of youth hostels etc. as an alternative
    seems like a good idea to me

  3. #3
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    wiiiim-

    Thank you for checking the Dutch forums. I found many listings in Google, but I couldn't read them.

    -Jim

  4. #4
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    Jim,

    Good question! I have been looking at a trip to holland as well, hopefully someone can comment on their experience with this service. here is a good website that lists tips for touring holland incase your interested: http://travellingtwo.com/5927
    (free campsites link on the bottom is noteworthy)

  5. #5
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    no problem
    the Google Chrome web browser has a built in translator (you visit a page in a foreign language and a popup will ask you if you want to translate)
    its not perfect but you'll get the general idea

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    Bump... just trolling for any personal experiences. Thanks -Jim

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    Making reservations with 'Vrienden op de Fiets'

    A small hint if you're making your reservations for Vrienden op de Fiets at short notice and in high season.

    In most larger cities in the Netherlands and Belgium you will find 10, 15, 20 or even more hosts. Start phoning the hosts at the bottom of the list. Otherwise you will encounter nothing but negative responses from the families on top of the list, because their room is already occupied. That's rather frustrating ...
    By the way, the ranking is purely random and changes every year.

    Check out the maps on the last pages because they are a good indication to see if your future host is located in, near or rather far from the city center, or from the tour that you're doing.

    The listings are very minimal, but sometimes words as 'pipowagen' (an old wooden caravan), '(woon)boerderij' (farm), 'woonboot' or 'woonark' (canal boat), 'tuinhuis' (garden shed), 'historisch monument' or 'rijksmonument' (historical monument), 'watertoren' (water tower), 'apart gedeelte' (separate room), ... will point you to some very special locations.

    Quite often, the hosts tend to be a bit older e.g. older ladies living alone in a too big house. In Belgium (where most hosts only rather recently joined), participating families seem to be younger and they love to cycle tour themselves. It's not really necessary to respect the time windows for making reservations. Just check European time before making a phone call.
    Last edited by fietslogies; 07-30-11 at 03:38 AM.
    59 cycle tracks along towpaths of rivers and canals and on former railway tracks in Belgium, and along the border regions of France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg with Belgium>> http://www.bikely.com/listpaths/by/fietslogies

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    Hi. I'm the OP.

    Well, we depart in 9 days. We will do a circle through Friesland and then take the train to Brugge (in NW Belgium) and ride from there back to Amsterdam. We are planning short days with lots of time for other activities.

    I've made reservations for 14 nights along our route using the Vriendens network. Ordering the listings book was straightforward, and it came in a timely manner. The book and membership card were actually sent BEFORE we sent the membership payment. 1-4 weeks before departure seems to be the best time window, even in a busy time like Summer. Earlier than that, the hosts' summer plans are sometimes not settled and they are not sure if they will be home.

    Reservations were easy to make, even in English. Probably 90% of the people who answered the phone spoke English. It did require a bit of persistence to book 14 separate locations because (unlike a hotel) people were often not home. Also, if you follow the rules there are only set time windows when you are supposed to call. 6-8 PM Holland time corresponded to 12-2 PM EST. I made all of the calls during short breaks at lunch hour at work, using a calling card. When I did reach someone, they had room well over 50% of the time. Availability might be different if you call only 1-2 days early. The people on the phone were friendly and helpful, suggesting other hosts in the few occasions when they were booked.

    I'll make a post about our experiences when we get back.

    See you on the road.

    Jim

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    Experiences with 'Vrienden op de Fiets'

    Jim,
    Ready to share your experiences with 'Vrienden op de Fiets' with us?
    Thanks in advance.
    f
    59 cycle tracks along towpaths of rivers and canals and on former railway tracks in Belgium, and along the border regions of France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg with Belgium>> http://www.bikely.com/listpaths/by/fietslogies

  10. #10
    Legionayr
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    Calling JimDDD - I too am interested in VodF, and would like to hear your account of your experiences with it. I'm off to Northern France and the Benelux countries for six weeks, leaving in the middle of August.

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    I'm planning to use VodF this year for my first trip to the Netherlands, in April. Would also be interested to hear follow-up from JimDDD if he still patrols the forum...?

    One update for 2013: VodF has a new website where you can log in with your membership number and search for lodgings on a google-maps interface---very cool! Perhaps coincident with this, it looks like they have stopped mailing the directory booklet overseas. At least, they didn't send one to me, and they only asked for 10 euro in member fees. The only downside I see, is that I may not be able to find those special places that fietslogies refers to in his post above. (The online search interface is only by location.)

    One thing I would like to get a better idea of, if any of you have personal experience, is how far in advance I need to book for April. I get the idea this is "high season" in at least part of the country (tulips). But what about outside of South/North Holland, e.g. Friesland? I really like to leave my itinerary as open as possible, but worry about lodging in some of the more popular tourist destinations, e.g. Hindeloopen.

  12. #12
    Legionayr
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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    I'm planning to use VodF this year for my first trip to the Netherlands, in April. Would also be interested to hear follow-up from JimDDD if he still patrols the forum...?

    One update for 2013: VodF has a new website where you can log in with your membership number and search for lodgings on a google-maps interface---very cool! Perhaps coincident with this, it looks like they have stopped mailing the directory booklet overseas. At least, they didn't send one to me, and they only asked for 10 euro in member fees. The only downside I see, is that I may not be able to find those special places that fietslogies refers to in his post above. (The online search interface is only by location.)

    One thing I would like to get a better idea of, if any of you have personal experience, is how far in advance I need to book for April. I get the idea this is "high season" in at least part of the country (tulips). But what about outside of South/North Holland, e.g. Friesland? I really like to leave my itinerary as open as possible, but worry about lodging in some of the more popular tourist destinations, e.g. Hindeloopen.
    I rejoined VodF for 2013, and have received the updated host booklet and map in the mail. It's in a considerably different format than the 2012 version. I understand that they've just reprinted the booklet, which may account for your delay in receipt. I haven't yet used their new website interface.

    I made considerable use of the VodF network in my August-September 2012 Benelux Battlefields Bikeabout, and found it excellent. I would usually start calling ahead, looking for accommodations, in the late morning for the same night. Often I'd find a place on the first call; sometimes I'd have to call two, three or four hosts before I located an opening; but in every instance I found a bed for the night. I'd usually be passing through villages and smaller towns in the central and southern part of Holland, and have no knowledge of how difficult it might be to find a crib in the more heavily touristed, coastal areas. Hosts were universally quite welcoming (in all cases I was their first American guest, so my novelty value may have played a role) and accommodations ranged from good to excellent. Some of the hosts charged me a bit more than the statutory 20 euro; but it was still a wonderful deal, and I didn't argue.

    One difficulty is paying the 10 euro donation. US banks aren't set up like their Netherlander counterparts, and have no idea how to process a euro accept-giro. About the only way, to the best of my knowledge, to pay up electronically is by wire transfer, the fees for which far exceed the donation. They don't accept cash, so just slinging a banknote into the mail is not an option. Money orders as we know them in the US don't exist in Holland - I spent considerable time discovering this. I ended up giving cash the and my invoice to my second host, on her promise to pay it for me (if one has a trusted friend in the Netherlands I suppose one might mail them the cash, too). On inquiry it is revealed that VodF takes PayPal; I am awaiting an email from them, confirming just exactly to which email address one should send the funds. Once that's resolved I'll post a followup here.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Legionayr View Post
    I rejoined VodF for 2013, and have received the updated host booklet and map in the mail. It's in a considerably different format than the 2012 version. I understand that they've just reprinted the booklet, which may account for your delay in receipt. I haven't yet used their new website interface.
    Interesting. Did your host booklet come in the same standard, business-sized envelope as the invoice and member card? I assumed it would have to be in a larger envelope, so they were either sending it separately (and it got lost or delayed), or figured I could use the web.

    Quote Originally Posted by Legionayr View Post
    On inquiry it is revealed that VodF takes PayPal; I am awaiting an email from them, confirming just exactly to which email address one should send the funds. Once that's resolved I'll post a followup here.
    I just used the administratie@... address and it was recognized as the Stitching Vrienden op de Fiets by Paypal. Hope that was ok Let us know what you find out.

  14. #14
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    I think 'Vrienden op de Fiets' got a bit fed up with the fact that everyone was looking for the best value for 19€ deal. Something like a separate floor in a luxury mansion. Now it's back to basics and unpredictable in what house you will stay the following night. And all hosting families get equal opportunities to welcome their first American.
    ;-)
    59 cycle tracks along towpaths of rivers and canals and on former railway tracks in Belgium, and along the border regions of France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg with Belgium>> http://www.bikely.com/listpaths/by/fietslogies

  15. #15
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    just never one for Package Holidays.. I'd just look for lodging in the tourist information center

    in towns/villages, when you arrive there.. follow signs on the roadway..

    Solo, so Hostels and Camping grounds work for Me.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    Interesting. Did your host booklet come in the same standard, business-sized envelope as the invoice and member card? I assumed it would have to be in a larger envelope, so they were either sending it separately (and it got lost or delayed), or figured I could use the web.


    I just used the administratie@... address and it was recognized as the Stitching Vrienden op de Fiets by Paypal. Hope that was ok Let us know what you find out.
    The booklet, map, and invoice/membership card all arrived in the same package, a sealed clear plastic mailing envelope about five inches be seven, roughly. It showed up about two weeks after I renewed my membership on their website.

    My experience also. I got an email response from VodF instructing me to do use that address. I just sent off my payment (had to wait a few days to transfer money into the account since I keep a zero balance; I've had very bad experiences with those pirates at Paypal), and I'll post again to alert the forum if there's any hitch. I wonder why VodF gives the Paypal option such a low profile - perhaps they too have had unpleasant experiences with PP, or maybe just because of PP's fees?
    Last edited by Legionayr; 01-30-13 at 08:34 PM. Reason: Clarity

  17. #17
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    Hi all-

    Sorry for the really long delay in responding. It's been a long time since I've logged into BF.

    My experience was great. As you may have noticed in my much earlier post, we booked ahead because it was absolute peak season. I think this was a good idea for us, but I would definitely just do the call ahead if I had a bit more travel flexibility or it was not July-August.

    The accomodations ranged from a house boat on a canal in Amsterdam, to a 160 year old farmhouse with sod roof and integrated barn, to a trailer in a sheep field 150 feet from the sea. OK, the trailer was overrun with some kind of beatle, but still.

    The best part was the opportunity to actually interact with ordinary people in a relaxed environment.

    Frankly, I cannot imagine a better travel experience.

    By the way, we bought a few euros at the cash exchange at the local mall and sent the payment as cash through the mail.

    Jim

  18. #18
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    Hiya, Jim....good to hear from you. We were beginning to think you'd vanished into a canal or something.

    My wife and I are going Holland in June for ten days bikeabout; her first visit. The idea of staying on a houseboat on a canal is mighty intriguing. Do you recall any contact info of where you stayed? Just a fragment is fine, something I can match up with the VodF directory entry.

    I can't PM you, nor you I - neither of us has 50 posts as yet

    Jeff in PHX

  19. #19
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    That's funny, reading Jim's note I had the exact same question as Jeff. If you remembered where the old farmhouse was (nearest town), that would be enough to look it up.

    Thanks for sharing your experience,

    Mark

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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    I'm planning to use VodF this year for my first trip to the Netherlands, in April. Would also be interested to hear follow-up from JimDDD if he still patrols the forum...?

    One update for 2013: VodF has a new website where you can log in with your membership number and search for lodgings on a google-maps interface---very cool! Perhaps coincident with this, it looks like they have stopped mailing the directory booklet overseas. At least, they didn't send one to me, and they only asked for 10 euro in member fees. The only downside I see, is that I may not be able to find those special places that fietslogies refers to in his post above. (The online search interface is only by location.)

    One thing I would like to get a better idea of, if any of you have personal experience, is how far in advance I need to book for April. I get the idea this is "high season" in at least part of the country (tulips). But what about outside of South/North Holland, e.g. Friesland? I really like to leave my itinerary as open as possible, but worry about lodging in some of the more popular tourist destinations, e.g. Hindeloopen.
    Hi, I'm The Netherlands and I'm a VodF member, so I use it a lot too. I wouldn't be too worried about Hindeloopen or Friesland in summer, as most people go there to go boating. Just call ahead a day earlier. You might also use the site and its map to search in a circle around Hindeloopen. Usually you only need to be 5 km away from a popular destination for there to be room in the inn.

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    Hello,

    I was searching for some advice on how to use VopF for a trip to the Netherlands & Belgium that my husband & are are planning in August. We managed to do a wire transfer to get the membership fee to their bank, but have not received a booklet. When I try to log in to the website to look for places to stay, the log in fields turn red & nothing happens. I have checked my number & my typing. I have also sent them 3 emails over 4 months & have received no response. Calling seems even less certain. Any ideas?

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimDDD View Post
    wiiiim-

    Thank you for checking the Dutch forums. I found many listings in Google, but I couldn't read them.

    -Jim
    If you use Google Chrome it will translate to English.

    Brad

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by werickson View Post
    Hello,

    I was searching for some advice on how to use VopF for a trip to the Netherlands & Belgium that my husband & are are planning in August. We managed to do a wire transfer to get the membership fee to their bank, but have not received a booklet. When I try to log in to the website to look for places to stay, the log in fields turn red & nothing happens. I have checked my number & my typing. I have also sent them 3 emails over 4 months & have received no response. Calling seems even less certain. Any ideas?
    I never received the booklet, but some folks in the US have (see above). In my case I just had them send it to my first lodging address in the Netherlands, which I had reserved a month in advance. Not sure what to say about the web site; if I can remember I'll try logging in tonight. During my trip it seemed as though they were working on it as small things would be different each time I logged in from the road.

    Did you receive the letter in the mail with the giro slip at the bottom?

  24. #24
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    So I just logged in now with my donor number and zip code, and the web site is working. If you're still not able to log in I imagine it means that they don't even have a donor number assigned to you and probably were not expecting your payment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mark03 View Post
    So I just logged in now with my donor number and zip code, and the web site is working. If you're still not able to log in I imagine it means that they don't even have a donor number assigned to you and probably were not expecting your payment.
    Thanks for the response. I did receive an email with a donor number & have quadruple checked that info, but still no luck.

    Wendy

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