Bit of a catch up
We’ve been back a few weeks, but there are a couple of events we wanted to describe, perhaps more for our own record – but you get them too!
Really Narrow Canals
Following the grounding hiccup, we took the remainder of the afternoon somewhat cautiously, constantly checking the depth meter, and there were a number of quite shallow stretches. But as the route was lined with marker buoys, we just stuck to the ‘path’. Coming to what would be our last bridge for the night, we negotiated with traffic control via telephone and voicemail and the bridge did indeed open for us after a short wait. This one was done remotely, but the system obviously works.
Just before the bridge we both laughed when we saw our first Dutch ‘mountain’. There was a very small rise in the ground on one side of the canal/river, complete with sheep and a number of yellow signs indicating either that they were sleeping, or that was where cables are buried underground. We suspected the mound might have been grass growing over leftover soil debris, but it struck us as hilarious, perhaps partly due to our somewhat taxing day.
Ian managed another rather neat parallel park amongst half a dozen boats in an unserviced mooring just before the town of Blokzijl (managed with my increasingly competent roping off skills) and we settled in for the night. There was a beer to celebrate surviving the day, but the high alcohol content (7.5% to 9% in Double and Triple varieties) had me taking the steps from the wheelhouse to the kitchen on hands and knees. Much giggling, and a stern reminder to ourselves that there will be no alcohol consumed during the day if we are going to do any more cruising that day. In the morning Ian was delighted to find a heavy dew had resulted in a myriad of shining spider webs all over the outside of the boat.
Blokzijl was so pretty – the little harbour was right in the centre of the village, with lovely old houses all around it. One way in via a Keersluis and one way out via the working sluis (lock). (Keersluis are locks that are not in operation, but gates can be used if required for flood control. A working sluis means roping off, gates, changing water levels and so on.)
And onto Giethoorn, ‘Venice of the North’. One stretch took us across a large, wide lake, then into the harbour via a narrow stretch of water past a narrow headland (complete with a miniature Statue of Liberty), and then a really sharp turn to follow a narrow channel/dyke between the lake and the lands around Giethoorn. Ian made me do the whole manoeuvre, which is good for my skill development if not for my heart rate.
We decided to stay two nights here, because we wanted to take one of the boat tours of the village. Not accessible by car – only boat (ours is way too big for these waterways) or walk/cycle on the narrow paths. I might have put my foot down on hiring a tinny or a rowboat, and we decided to buy tickets for a tour boat the following day, despite a storm being forecast.
The place was just gorgeous. Tiny canals only one narrow boat wide, with steep wooden bridges over. All of the houses have thatched roofs, and alongside their colourful gardens and green lawns, I could have been back in England as a little girl.
Only the myriad of waterways would dispel that idea – with personal boats in neat little boat sheds dotted along even narrower canals around the houses. While it does not resemble the Venice I have seen – Giethoorn is so green, peppered with the most beautiful, well-cared for gardens – I can appreciate the sentiment.
We took the extra long tour, which took us through the village, out across another lake, and into a wetlands area. This was the wildlife part of the tour, but we only managed to sight one raptor, a number of ducks, and Ian had a dragonfly land briefly on his shirt. Then we went back across the lake and through the remainder of the village.
After the tour, we enjoyed a beer and a (light!) late lunch in the sunshine (no storm), beside the canal. Perfect.
The next day, as previously recounted, we left to start the haul up to Groningen. We’ve covered that elsewhere, but next, how we ended our stay in the Netherlands with a wonderful afternoon in Amsterdam
At the Valreep
We had planned to arrive at Amsterdam the day before we flew out. Not much time for touring, but we figured we would have more opportunities in the future. However, we were very fortunate that our friends Michel and Rebecca on ‘t Majeur coaxed every bit of speed out of her, and managed to make Utrecht the morning we left Groningen (and Neo Vita) by train for Amsterdam. Very kindly, they offered to also take the train into Amsterdam, and host us for our brief tour of the city. So, with great excitement, we waited outside Amsterdam Central for their arrival.
We immediately learnt a little more Dutch – Michel informed us we were meeting “on the Valreep”. This is a Dutch idiom based on the valreep being, what would be referred to in English as the ‘gangway’ – used to used to allow the last passengers to board, or leave, before a vessel leaves port. So, to the Dutch, it means meeting at the last moment, at a parting.
Not having too much time, and Michel and Rebecca on a schedule that was bookended by having to get back to let their dog, Panache, locked on board t’ Majeur, out for a “walk” – we decided to stroll through the centre of the city, and punctuate the afternoon and early evening with rests at coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
The walk was very pleasant and it was all the more so to be able to share our exciting few weeks with our “barge mentors”.
Also a great opportunity to extract yet more advice and encouragement from them. As one-time residents of Amsterdam, they also had lots of stories and anecdotes about the city, its people and history. Its republican background – the Town Hall, constructed in the mid-17th century when Amsterdam was possibly the trading centre of the world, is now a palace, not entirely to the comfort of the still republican Amsterdammers; the changes in the churches as protestantism swept the country – in fact the oldest church “Oude Kirk” is now in red light district;
the bicycle culture (avoid the red tourist bikes!) and the concentric rings of canals which we experienced oh so briefly a few weeks previously;
and the little narrow house (reddish in the photo below), barely the width of a door, constructed by a grateful employer for their children’s nurse so she could remain comfortable once her charges had grown up – and converted the alley between two houses for her domicile.
The sights of the red-light district were, well, striking! And we had a lively discussion on aspects of Dutch culture that were affected by this acceptance of legal prostitution – and the broad effect seems to be very positive.
The same area had many shops selling exotic herbs, and one specialising in what might be the Dutch national animal.
One of the highlights, at least for Ian, was a couple of stiff drinks of Korenwijn (a form of Genever or Dutch gin). This spirit is traditionally poured into a small glass, until it is just over the rim of the vessel. Thus full, the first drink is a sip taken from the glass, whilst it is still on the table. Michel volunteered to give a demonstration.
This strong spirit is also the source of one of our English idioms. Back in the mists of antiquity, when English mercenaries were fighting alongside the Dutch during the 30 Years War, before battle, they would often fortify themselves with Genever before heading out for combat. Since then, taking strong alcohol before a contest has become known as getting ‘dutch courage’.
It took Ian a couple of glasses to get the technique, but the practice was very enjoyable.
We had also recently asked Michel and Rebecca if they could act as intermediaries for us to contact the previous owner of Neo Vita; we had sent a copy of his address to them a couple of days previously. He had sold the barge to Marianne and Paul about 14 years ago. At a table, drinking coffee, an incredible story unfolded.
The name we had sent was for one ‘Herke Boskma’. Imagine our (and Michel and Rebecca’s) surprise when it turned out that this was the same man who had sold Michel and Rebecca the barge that was to become their ‘t Majeur, some seven years ago!
So we had the incredible coincidence that the barge Mr Boskma’s owned, immediately previous to the one that was to become ‘t Majeur, had been sold seven or so years before to Marianne and Paul, to become ‘Neo Vita’. After a 2013 cruise on the latter of his two barges, we had bought the earlier one! How freakish that we had our first barge experience on one of Mr Boksma’s barges, and then bought another. Rebecca and Michel and Ian and I shook our heads, something Ian says about coincidence …
After a very nice meal and lots more conversation, we strolled back to the station, resolving to meet again, somewhere next year along the ‘linear village’ in which we bargees dwell.
A memorable end to a memorable month.