Susi's Blog

New Aussie Crew

Our new shipmates, Nina and Callum, arrived! They took straight to the Dutch life style and after a safe arrival drink swung themselves on bicycles to explore Amsterdam. 

While they met a friend in town, we caught up with Dianne and John from Perth, whose boat “Dijon" among another 3 Aussie boats was moored in the same harbour. 

After another day of experiencing Amsterdam including swinging “over the edge” on the A’Dam Tower (see, Nina and Cal were put to work while cruising via the Markermeer to the Vecht. There was a lot to learn like how to flatter the captain, how to keep the boat spick and span and taking over the wheel when asked for. Callum took to the challenge with great nonchalance while Nina was a little distracted steering the Freshwater past overhanging trees while marvelling at all the beautiful homes and gardens along the river Vecht. They finally found their ideal home near Utrecht, Kasteel de Haar, and are still taking applications from servants, I believe.

We eventually had to feed our crew and they were introduced to Dutch Pancakes, cheeses, ice creams etc.

As Nina and Callum were getting too comfortable with the challenges of adjusting fenders, mooring and casting off and were no longer concentrating in locks, they were demoted to riding in the tender.

We allowed them back on board for the high visit of my brother, Thomas and Vera who had driven from Ahlen near Münster in Germany to Utrecht to see us. On the first evening they treated us all to a delicious meal at a restaurant called “Zakkendrager”, which my brother charmingly translated as “Handbag Carrier”. In reality, the Zakkendragers of Utrecht were not that refined. 

Their actual job  was to carry heavy “sacks" filled with grain, peat or coal from the barges on the canal to the storage and warehouses found all along the Old Gracht in town. Nowadays these cave- like storage places are artist studios, restaurants and bars, where from the outdoor seating one can watch small party and tour boats float by.

On the day of Ninas and Cals late night departure we all drove to" Zaanse Schans”, a charming Dutch village with everything Dutch in one place: windmills, cute houses and draw bridges, cheese factory, clog makers, weavers etc., including hundreds of tourists. 

By the way, there wasn’t an animal in Holland, whether duck, sheep, dog or cow, Callum didn’t make friends with and Nina and he embraced everything the country had to offer with great interest and enthusiasm! 

We are missing you already Nina and Cal! Thanks for spending some time with us on the Freshwater and say hi to Freshwater in Oz and all our beautiful family and friends there!

From Urk to Enkhuizen, Hoorn and Edam

At 8 am (a record for us!) the Freshwater and the Dolce Vita with Sandra and Reg left Kampen to head to Urk on the IJsselmeer. 

The reason for the early start was, that a bad weather front was forecast for the afternoon and the next day. And sure enough, after our arrival in Urk the wind grew stronger and by night time it was blowing a gale! Luckily we still got two good moorings in the rapidly filling harbour. 

When we went to explored the old fishing village, we were told that the  “Urk Day Festival” was happening tomorrow which for us was an unexpected bonus!

After a delicious dinner on the Dolce Vita and a few games of cards we returned to our bobbing boat and were virtually rocked to sleep. We were woken by gnarling ropes and a noisy whistling sound caused by the wind playing a high-pitched string concert on the masts and stays of the 100 odd sailing boats. Luckily we had applied springs with our ropes because the wind was whipping up a surf inside the harbour!

Have I mentioned that we love how the Dutch celebrate?! 

You might have thought that due to showers and 40km winds the Festival would have been cancelled, but no! Gradually we saw the village come to life. Families with babies in vintage prams, groups of young girls and boys all clad in their traditional costumes were braving the elements. The women and girls were wearing beautiful dresses, knitted shawls and lacy caps and the men and boys black pants, striped shirts and clogs. Both, the people of Urk and their costumes, were obviously designed to withstand gale force winds and rain! The girls caps were held in place by clasps digging into their cheeks which they didn't seem to mind. Everyone was bracing against the wind and occasionally taking shelter in one of the fest tents, but generally enjoying the bands, choirs, rope platting and fish smoking activities. 

Urk is famous for its salmon and so we joined the long queues at the fish stalls, getting our kibbling and smoked salmon fixes. Both, Reg and Sandra and we bought some hot smoked salmon which served us as tasty nibblies with a little crème fraîche on crackers for the next two evenings. 

To walk off our little indulgences Austin and I climbed the stairs of the lighthouse and, once on top, were nearly blown off the balcony. Looking down onto the choppy IJsselmeer, the stories told and displayed along the stairwell of drowned fishermen and rescue crews, were easily imaginable.

What a difference a day makes…! The next morning the whistling we had almost gotten used to, finally stopped. There was blue skies and calm seas. So we set off to cross the IJsselmeer to Enkhuizen on the west coast. Playing tag with the Dolce Vita we had a pleasant cruise accompanied by many sailboats taking advantage of the nice weather and the public holiday.

After another fun night with Sandra and Reg, we left in the morning to sail to Hoorn. The Queenslanders had decided to stay put as the marina was a convenient place to leave their boat, and for their train journey to their daughter’s birthday party. Our mission was to get to Amsterdam a day or two before our daughter joins us on the Freshwater.

But first we had to get through the lock of the dam which divides the IJsselmeer from the Markermeer. We were the first boat to enter the lock and were ready with our ropes nicely looped around a bollard, when a sail boat came in, and another, and another……a.s.o. until we counted 15 boats in the lock! It was a great sight as they all in orderly fashion spilled out at the other end! The Markermeer was a little choppy that day, but no challenge for us old sea dogs and we arrived in Hoorn harbour at lunchtime.

We loved Hoorn straight away: from the friendly harbour master to the beautiful harbour full of old sailing boats and botters to the Hoofdtoren tower overlooking the harbour entrance. We spent the day walking around the small town passing the former apple harbour and beer pontoon to the central "Red Steene" Square, where the replica "red stone” tells of bloody medieval punishments like the severing of limbs. Close by is the statue of J.P. Coen a governor general of the former Dutch East India Company who was known to use violence to achieve his ambitious goals. Maybe the VR glasses slung around his head are a sign of the contempt from locals towards his statue. 

Hoorn together which Enkhuizen and Edam is one of seven towns which served the Dutch East India Company as ports, distribution and administration centres. They experienced a “Golden Time” during the existence of the company which is beautifully show cased in the Hoorn Westfries Museum. Part of the Museum is a 3D virtual reality tour through Batavia, the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company on Java. For this we wore VR eye goggles and earphones where image and sound was activated via our head movements. Fantastic, a first for me!

We would have loved to stay longer in Hoorn, but we were keen to make some headway while the weather was good. So we moved onto Edam for our last stop before Amsterdam. 

Arriving mid afternoon we missed the cheese market but had some delicious, fruity donuts from the coffee shop across the road instead. Cycling through town over the narrow cobblestoned lanes was tricky, but cars slowed down and kept a respectful distance. 

Edam is a quiet town with none of the tourism like Gouda or Volendam but lacks  some of the charm that Hoorn has. But I might do the town injustice as we really didn’t take the time to fully explore it. The Grote Kerk (the Big Church) with many beautiful stainless windows however was very impressive! 

Tomorrow we are off to Amsterdam and our usual marina at Sixhaven! We are looking very much forward to having our daughter Nina and partner Callum joining us on board! 

For an evaluation of their seaworthiness and deck scrubbing abilities watch this space!

Zwolle and Kampen

Our first day’s travel went without a hitch! This might have been due to the fact that on the stretch from Meppel to the old Hanseatic city of Zwolle no locks were involved. Looking at the map it is easy to see that the city had at one stage been transformed into another one of those star shaped fortifications which there are so many of here in Holland. 

In the North of the city large sections of town wall are still in place and on the southern side stands the emblem of Zwolle, the 1406 built city gate “Sassenpoort”. We climbed to the top of the “poorts" tower from where we had a beautiful view over the city. From the stairwell we also had access to several prison cells, the cannon room and an eerie view through the “murder holes” where during attacks boiling oil and pitch was poured onto invaders. 

Three churches within the small space of the old town bear witness to the once important ecclesiastical history.

Interesting are some of the former and modern usages of the church buildings. The monastery of the Broeren Church, for example served as a prison and barracks for many years. 

Part of the building became a conservatorium, aswell as a synagogue for the once large jewish community. For many years the building also housed Thérèse Boer’s Michelin Star restaurant. Since 2013 the  Broeren Church itself is home to a large bookshop “Waanders in de Broeren” which also includes a café/brasserie, gift section and a good selection of English literature. 

The Thérèse Boer restaurant, cookery school and hotel is now located in the so-called “Spinhuis", the former Women’s prison.

One of the smaller churches of town we found transformed into a Sushi restaurant. Even though very stylish looking this seemed an almost sacrilegious use of what was once a space of worship.

In front of the romanesque/gothic “Grote Kerk” (Great Church) stands a modern glass sculpture of the Patron Saint of Zwolle, Archangel Michael. Why he is green, I haven’t worked out yet but he surely doesn’t go unnoticed!

In contrast, the inhabitants of Zwolle are known as “Blauwvingers” (Blue fingers). The story goes that when the church spire burned down the citizens of Zwolle sold the surviving church bells to neighbouring town Kampen at an exorbitant price. When the people in Kampen realised that they had been charged too much, they took their revenge by paying the whole amount in cent pieces. From counting all the copper coins the fingers of the town clerks of Zwolle were said to have turned blue.

The “Balletjeshuis” sells apart from the famous Zwolle “balletjes” (sugary lollies) also sweets called “Blauwvingers”. 

An impressive building is the visual arts museum “Museum de Fundatie” whose roof, seen from a distance, can be mistaken for a large cloud. In fact it is covered with 55000 small ceramic tiles.  

We liked this vibrant city with it’s centre full of young people. Some student groups on the day were involved in a Youth Festival. Special tents and out door stages were set up for music performances and story telling. In the evenings the outdoor cafés/bars were lively meeting places for students and tourists alike.

We also love how the Dutch celebrate their various talents and sporting endeavours.

In Kampen, our next stop, a procession of thirty odd groups of children, each group in a different coloured sports outfit, was moving through town accompanied by several music bands. It was the final of the so-called “Avondvierdaagse” meaning:" Four day evening walks" (and I thought only German has long words like that!). I learned that during those days sporting, school and scout groups walk daily distances of either 5, 10 or 15kms. 

On the final day they get a medal and, as we witnessed, are handed sweets and toys from families and friends as they pass by. Even the mayor of town made an appearance, waving to the young walkers from his balcony!

Here in Kampen we met up with our Queensland friends, Sandra and Reg, who are heading towards Amsterdam like us. Sandra suggested to catch up over dinner at a restaurant called “De Bastaard”. With a name like that, what could go wrong! It was a great suggestion! The ribs were finger-licking good!

Back in Holland/Meppel

After travelling the rusty red and ochre coloured shores of Western Australia it is quite surreal to be back in the land of windmills, green meadows and canals.

Here in Jachthaven Meppel where the Freshwater was in dry storage over winter it’s all about boats. On our arrival the Freshwater was sitting in prime position to watch boats being towed across the yard, lifted and lowered into the water while on the bank opposite huge freight containers were being loaded onto 100 metre long barges.

Getting on board, we felt immediately "at home" again! All the important work we asked for had been done by Marcel and crew. The Freshwater looked shiny with a new coat of paint and the arial bar we had to climbed over for the past 7 years, whenever height restrictions made lowering it necessary, had been removed. We are also now the proud owners of a push button toilet and no longer have to suffer RSI from pumping the manual one! New windscreen wipers are another big improvement I am excited about! For too long it has been me with the squeegee doing the job and getting drenched while Austin commanded “left/right” from underneath the canvass roof. I am almost excited about Tuesday's forecast for rain! 

Yes, and of course we didn’t forget to have our “safe arrival” drinks on our first evening, Jane! We shared it with NZ couple Tracey and Mike, followed on by drinks on board of Aussie Judy and John's new boat the next night, and the next…..

In the meantime we cycled a few times into town. The nicest route to the historic centre leads across a couple of lift bridges and passes the restored windmill “Molen De Weert” and the municipal harbour. There is great shopping in town, but I don’t know why on our cycle back to the Jachthaven, loaded up with all kinds of solid and fluid nourishment, the Dutch wind tends to turn against us. Time to get our flaccid calves back into shape, I think! 

The weather so far has been sunny and warm, and we are enjoying the long daylight hours.

© Austin Robinson 2019