6 friends navigating the waterways of Netherlands in a canal boat. Starting point: Sneek, Friesland.
27 May 2018: Journey starts
We boarded our Emirates at lunchtime and flew to Dubai, landing just after midnight. Dubai airport is really modern but also huge and intimidating because many of the signs are in Arabic and it’s not clear where you need to go. Eventually we found our way out of the terminal and walked into a wall of heat, 32 degrees Celsius at 1am.
We decided to catch an Uber which seemed like a good idea at the time. I had locked onto the airport WiFi but only after I hailed the Uber did it dawn on me that the moment I left the concourse, the WiFi would disappear, along with our committed Uber ride. Also early morning is peak time at the airport so there were hundreds of vehicles weaving in and out of the pick-up zone. So it became a bit of a comedy with me keeping within the confines of the concourse to maintain my WiFi signal and shouting instructions to Sylvia 30m away regarding what car to look out for (with Arabic number plates). Somehow we found it and he took us to our hotel.
We had decided when we booked the tickets to break the journey into two with a hotel stay in-between in Dubai. We both do poorly on long overnight flights so the thinking was to fly during the day, sleep in a hotel at night and then continue the journey the next day. It made the journey really, really long but was worth trying. We’d also got the tickets on a great deal so we thought we’d spend the savings on improving the journey.
In hindsight the hotel stopover was worth it. It was long but we didn’t arrived in Amsterdam feeling shattered and we could start being tourists right away. However next time there’s a hotel inside the airport which is really convenient and we may try that instead of leaving the airport.
Whilst in the hotel we had time to go out for shwarmas (NOTHING beats a middle eastern shwarma!). We caught the Dubai metro back to the hotel the next day and again Dubai has done a great job with its underground rail.
28 May 2018: Arrive at Schippol
Back to the airport, nice flight, arrived in Schiphol around 8pm. We thought 8pm was quite late but as it turned out the sun only goes down at 10pm and gets dark at 11pm. Ria and Peet Vermont picked us up at the airport and took us back to their place in Leiden where we will spend the next 3 nights.
29 May 2018: Impressions of Leiden
Leiden is a university town that goes back over a 1000 years. It’s been invaded many times and over the centuries the townsfolk built a really big wall around the town with a moat on the outer edge of the wall. Eventually after many centuries the town felt safe enough to take down the wall but left the moat in place which is now a ring of water around the town.
The canals are fed by the Rhine River which keeps it gently flowing and clean. We did see people swimming in the town canals today as it was really hot.
We walked most of the town and also took a boat trip around the outer ring. It’s a really pretty town and I had a chance to take some photos.
Below is a really narrow wall and the story is it was the back entrance for the town butcher. It was wide enough for a cow but too narrow for the cow to turn around.
We were walking past a library in a brick-lined alleyway and this lady was working on what looked like a storyboard on the other side of the window.:
Leiden is full of artistic folk and this is one of the works in a window. I just thought it was cool and I think Kingsley will appreciate it:
30 May 2018: Amsterdam
After spending a day in Leiden the urge to go to Amsterdam wasn’t that great. I always wanted to experience the Amsterdam canals and the way of life that they bring but Leiden has all of that, plus Leiden is really pretty and lacks the crowds. However we wanted to go to the Rijks Museum and so we headed off to Amsterdam.
Getting around is so easy and convenient once you get to grips with the public transport. The trains are quiet, efficient and comfortable and we started out at Amsterdam Centraal Station. We walked through the streets to the Museum which is really impressive from the outside:
The museum exceeded expectations and it holds some of the finest works of historical art in the world. We were particularly taken by Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and “The Jewish Bride”, Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and “Houses in Delft”, Asselijn’s “The Threatened Swan”, and Pernia’s “Waterloo” which is as tall as a house (6m x 8m). Some paintings look great on the internet; these paintings are best appreciated live. You can see them all on their website http://www.rijksmuseum.nl.
On the side of the museum is a park that is very well equipped and for once it was free to be there.
There aren’t many street sculptures in the City but here was one that impressed:
We came across a Church and went inside and Sylvia was delighted when she found out that it was the Basilica of St Nicolas (the Dutch version of Santa Klaus).
And of course we went out of our way to find the best fries in Amsterdam:
31 May 2018: Nijland
We were really well looked after by Peet and Ria and our thanks to them. We will be with them again on our last night in Netherlands.
Sylvia’s cousin Gerhard and his wife Jetty picked us up at 11am to take us through to Sneek.
Gerhard and Jetty live in Nijland which is a small village of around 300 houses. On the way we went over the BreezandDijk which is a 32km long dyke that was built in 1932 as protection again the North Sea. Here is a photo of the road on top of the dyke:
The dyke was built largely by hand. Dredging machines moved mud clay into place but the brush used to stabilize it, and the rocks that bedded it down, were all laid by hand.
There’s a touching statue that pays tribute to the efforts of the workers:
At the end of the dyke we went into the newly built visitor’s centre which explained the original works as well as the upcoming refurbishment of the dyke.
We then headed off to Gerhard and Jetty’s house in Nijland and passed a really cool wooden bridge along the route:
Here’s a photo of their village as we approached it in the fading sunlight:
… and a photo in the village which is really quaint:
1 June 2018: Sneek
The next morning Gerhard and Jetty took us to the Jopie Huisman museum in Workum. Jopie was a local artist who became a favourite son of the village and normally it would just be a trip to an art gallery to see some nice paintings, but the presentation was excellent and they delved into his early life and tried to explain what formed him and his work. He was a “rag & bones” man which is essentially a junk dealer, and he came from a large, poor working class family. These combined in his paintings and showed why he liked to paint still lifes of junk items and “people without status”, as he described it. We loved it. Here is some of his art.
His father and mother:
… some of his still lifes:
We finally collected our boat in the afternoon.
2 June 2018: Bolsward
Woke up to a rainy day in Sneek. Started traveling along the canals to Bolsward, about 19km distance. We rented bicycles for the entire 2 weeks and there will be times when we can bike ride alongside the boat between villages. The boat averages about 5km/hr with stops along the way.
This was our first true day of boating and we encountered a number of raise bridges and narrow canals. Lot’s of fun but a bit nerve-wracking as the boat is huge and oversized for the waters we are navigating.
We left Sneek, and the famous Waterbridge behind us as we sailed towards Bolsward.
When we got to Bolsward we found out it was a festival day and the locals went to great depths to portray their heritage. Many of them wore traditional dress and played authentic musical instruments in the streets. A real treat.
Later on a cat befriended us and took up residence on board. I don’t know how this is going to pan out. Better learn to swim, kitty.
Sylvia went shopping for cheese with Hans and Lyn. No surprises there.
Went to Church in Bolsward Basilica. An amazing art-deco styled building.
I learn to fly a bat.
All in all, a great day in Bolsward.
3 June 2018: Hindeloopen (via Workum)
Cat still with us. Tried to come along for the ride but eventually we put him back on shore.
Left for Hindeloopen at 10am and went through about 7 bridges and our first lock. We’re getting to be a pretty good crew with the narrow spaces.
Hindeloopen used to be a seaside village in the South Sea and then became a freshwater port when the Afsluitdijk was constructed in 1932 (this stopped the access through to the ocean). Many fishermen then lost their livelihood and the village went from being a fishing village to a pleasure village. Nowadays the village only has one permanent professional fisherman (down from 63 at it’s peak). However the village has maintained it’s charm.
There is a centuries-old dyke around the village that kept back the sea when it was unprotected.
The village had a festival day with many of the residents dressing up in traditional dress, singing and performing in the streets.
Tomorrow we will cross over the Ijsselmeer (30+ km of open water).
4/5 June 2018: Enkhuizen
We crossed the open waters of the Ijsselmeer this morning but before talking about that, the people we are traveling with, Hans and Lynn, have a drone and took aerial photos of our boats and the pretty town of Hindeloopen. The first photo show our two boats side-by-side and the second photo is the money shot showing the whole village from the air and the Ijsselmeer in the background.
It was fun to cross open waters but we were grateful that the weather was on our side. Even a stretch of water that is only 30km across can get dangerous in bad weather.
We’re taking a break from moving around and will now stay in Enkhuizen for 2 nights.
Enkhuizen was an important post and has the original Dromedaris building where the exploration fleets were controlled from in the 16th and 17th centuries:
6 June 2018: Urk
Urk is a 1000 year old fishing town that was once connected directly to the North Sea but now is part of the inland reclaimed area. It is still however an active fishing port.
Sylvia skippered the boat to Urk. The life jackets are unintentional.
View of Urk from Hans’ drone.
It is one of the few places that we have come across that has any kind of height. The original village was built on a hill about 10 metres above sea level and was an island. Now that everything around it is reclaimed it is a shore fishing harbour.
Hans and Lynn organised a treat for us, they got us through to Urk in time for the daily fishing auction where the public is allowed to look in on. It all starts with the fishing boats offloading their catches on the quay in the early afternoon, this day’s catch was mostly eel.
The catch is then weighed and graded and all the buyers go into the auction room where they sit at tables with hidden buttons (under the table). The auctioneer starts by giving the kilogram price that the fisherman wants for his catch and then the price is counted down to zero. The first buyer to press his button get’s the deal.
7 June 2018: Blokzijl
Our last day on the open waters and back into the canals. Sylvia and Welma decided to cycle to Blokzijl whilst we took the boat, a 44km cycle. We passed her on the way.
I can’t explain this:
8 June 2018: Giethoorn
Sylvia’s birthday! Balloons, presents and happiness.
Giethoorn is known as “Venice of the North”. It is a small village tucked away inside De Wieden nature reserve which is the largest peat moor area in northwestern Europe. In previous centuries the peat was taken out in strips and used for fuel, and you can see this clearly on aerial maps.
The Dutch were going to rehabilitate the land but when they realised they had something unique they decided to keep it as a nature reserve for posterity.
The village is a spiderweb of really narrow canals, pretty much around one or two houses each. They are interconnected by small pedestrian bridges which can’t accommodate cars, so the houses don’t have roads leading them, only canals. It really is quite quaint.
They get around 800 000 tourists a year and interestingly about 200 000 of those are generally Asian. We saw a lot of Asians in the village today.
It was a really nice place but a bit spoilt by tourist overcrowding. Worth seeing though.
9 June 2018: Ossenzijl
John bicycle’d today from Giethoorn to Ossenzijl, through the Nederland Nature Reserve.
The boat took a similar, but longer, route and had to pass through a paid bridge. The “bridge keeper” stayed in his hut and passed over a wooden clog on a fishing line to collect the toll.
Both routes passed through Kalenberg which is very similar to Giethoorn but without the tourists. All of the houses on one side of the canal don’t have road access and I saw some residents moving goods down the pathway on a wheelbarrow and a cart. Each house has its own waterway parking (perpendicular to the main canal).
Ossenzijl is on the edge of the nature reserve and is a joint marina and camping site. It has a wonderful information centre that shows how they pulled peat from the swamps to build roads and houses. They also have a nice display on how to make clogs.
The Dutch seem to be big on ecology and we see a lot of “insect hotels” in gardens and parks.
We went to a wonderful Eucharistic Service [woord en communie] in the Oldemarkt Catholic Church:
9 June 2018: Woudsend
Sylvia’s turn to pay the bridge keeper.
Went through Sloten and saw the one remaining working windmill but did not stop as it is Sunday and everything apparently is closed. It is 5km from Woudsend so we may backtrack tomorrow or cycle through.
Woudsend is an unremarkable village. Today is a day for reading books.
Having said that they have a nice windmill (meulen).
11 June 2018: Joure
On arrival in Joure we knew we where in the Dutch town known for Douwe Egberts. The smell of coffee and tobacco permeates the air.
We had a bit of excitement when we heard a hot-air balloon being inflated just next to our boat. Sadly the wind picked up and they canceled the flight before it got started.
The Dutch like their dogs and they are strong on poo control:
Nice photo of Sylvia in the park:
We went to the fabulous Joure Museum.
The museum highlights the Douwe Egberts company which started in Joure a few hundred years ago as well as a number of highly skilled crafts from the region.
Joure was (and still is) very strong on precision clocks and the museum has a few dozen of them from previous centuries. What was more remarkable though was they showed the tools and processes used to make the clocks. When you see the archaic tools they used it is remarkable they got the kind of precision they did. The first photo below is a clock from the 1700’s and then below are the tools they used.
Similarly they had a full display of printing presses and typesetting tools.
They also had a display on brass mouldings – they were a key component for the clocks.
12 June 2018: Grou
Grou is at the junction of a number of open waterways and canal crossings so it gets a lot of water traffic, especially recreational users. Subsequently the town has an oversupply of water sports shops, restaurants and fancy sea wear (R1500 for a stripy tee shirt with a yacht logo!). It is a lovely little town though.
It also has the oldest Protestant Church in the world (St Peter’s):
We got excited when we heard there was a show on the water at 9pm in the evening and went and got a “front-row” seat, but unfortunately it ended up being a play entirely in Dutch. Sylvia was keen to see it through; I got bored and we left.
Also, it also started raining. Good time to leave.
13 June 2018: Leeuwarden
Leeuwarden wasn’t on the original itinerary but we decided to go there to get close to the town of Franeker where lies the world’s first and oldest existing planetarium. We had low expections of Leeuwarden but were pleasantly surprised. The City is the capital of the province of Friesland and is the current cultural capital of Europe, and the town has gone all-out to earn this right. There are many “little surprises” in the town that delight.
The first surprise we came across was a “living forest” where the creators had hidden speakers in the woods. One tree burped and farted as you walked past it and a park bench was snoring…. You had to be there.
The iconic landmark of Leeuwarden is the Oldehove tower (see below). Construction started in 1529 but stopped before it was finished when it started leaning. The original design was 120m high but they stopped at 39m. It is leaning 2m at the top. (The leaning tower of Pisa apparently leans a lot more).
One of the restaurants in Leeuwarden has wheelbarrows for chairs. Sylvia is a very willing model for my photo excursions.
We came across a toy shop that stocked jigsaw puzzles. We say this one with 40 000 pieces – the finished puzzle is around 6mx2m.
This sculpture is really freaky.
14 June 2018: Franeker
Franeker is about 3 hours sail by boat and 25 min by rail so we decided to make the train trip to see the planetarium.
This is the oldest planetarium in the world and was built as a hobby by it’s creator in his bedroom. There’s a really interesting backstory (www.planetarium-friesland.nl) but what we liked is the creator, Eise Eisinga, wasn’t a recognised scientist and just did it to satisfy his own curiosity.
The entire apparatus is powered by a pendulum that drives a really backyard garage gearing system made of wood and nails in his ceiling, but it is accurate in perpetuity. He made it to scale and the outermost planet is Saturn which takes 29 years to rotate on his ceiling. At the time he started construction Uranus hadn’t been discovered. When it was, halfway through construction, he just said “oh, well” and finsihed it anyway (without Uranus, or Neptune and Pluto).
Coffee in Franeker with Lynn our excellent tour guide and host.
Please don’t tell me I’m too big for my shoes.
We then sailed on to Sneek to spend the night of the 14th and handed back the boat on the 15th June.
Thanks Welma, Hannes, Judith and Evan for being such accommodating travel mates and special thanks to Hans and Lynn for all your guidance and encouragement.