Travelling by steam tram

Ulrike Grafberger, Saturday, October 24, 2015 , 1,272 Views

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The old lady trundles through the landscape at a sedate 30 kilometres per hour, blowing clouds of steam and attracting attention with an occasional shrill warning whistle. In spite of being almost 100 years old, she still radiates grandeur and beauty. She is freshly washed and polished like a mirror – not for nothing is she called 'Bello'. She shows no signs of age and seems to carry her 145,000 passengers per year effortlessly through the countryside.

The Stoomtram is not an ordinary steam railway, but a steam tram. This explains the leisurely 30 kilometres per hour and the extremely pretty wooden carriages. Because of the slow speed lighter wooden carriages can be used. The oldest of these dates from 1898 and took a whole five years to renovate. Today every single little part, wooden or metal, is restored to its former glory, and the seats in first class have red plush cushions to make the ride more comfortable.

Our journey takes us from Hoorn in northern Holland to Medemblik on the IJsselmeer. On the way we stop off in Wognum-Nibbixwoud, where we can get out and visit the engine shed for coffee and a special pastry called gevulde koek. The children can have a go at walking on stilts and bowling hoops - games that were already popular here at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Stoomtram carried its first and second class guests through the countryside and there was still a mail van in use.

Very little has changed since those days, or at any rate not on the steam tramway from Hoorn to Medemblik. The conductors and engine drivers wear period uniforms, the paper tickets are punched with a hole punch, the beautiful Bello is stoked with coal by hand and her chimney belches smoke. The historical railway station at Wognum-Nibbixwoud is home to a black Oldtimer and an antique delivery bicycle.

When we arrive in Medemblik we continue by boat across the IJsselmeer. Even then we have no need to come back into the here and now, but can stay in the past on board the museum ship, the 'Friesland', built in 1956. She used to ply between Harlingen and the island of Terschelling and now carries passengers across the IJsselmeer from Medemblik to Enkhuizen. In Enkhuizen guests can disembark to visit the Zuiderzeemuseum or to begin their return journey to Hoorn on a 'normal' train. Sitting on the new Netherlands Railways train we soon long for the unhurried old steam tram with her polished wooden seats, her leisurely bumping and swaying and the sight of people waving from the side of the road. The good old days.